List of counties in California

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The U.S. state of California is divided into 58 counties. Counties are responsible for all elections, property-tax collection, maintenance of public records such as deeds, and local-level courts within their borders, as well as providing law enforcement (through the county sheriff and sheriff's deputies) to areas that do not lie within incorporated cities.

  • The county is the default unit of local government (all parts of the state's land are allocated to one of the state's 58 counties). Each county has a Board of Supervisors and is subject to mandatory duties under state law to provide its residents with services like law enforcement, healthcare, road maintenance, and so on. Balancing a county's mandatory and discretionary duties is a very difficult task; any sufficiently injured county taxpayer has standing to sue the county to enforce certain duties where financial distress is no excuse, such as healthcare.
  • Residents of a sufficiently large piece of unincorporated county land can incorporate a city. The city government then takes some of the tax revenue that would have gone to the county, and can impose additional taxes on its residents. It can then choose to provide almost all the services usually provided by the county (and more), or provide only a few and pay the county to do the rest. A city in this last arrangement is called a contract city; this type of contract is generally known among lawyers as the "Lakewood Plan", because it was pioneered by the city of Lakewood in 1954.[1]
  • The idea of "opting out" of county control in California has been taken to its logical extremes. Almost all of the city of Vernon is one large industrial zone, while almost all of the town of Los Altos Hills is zoned as residential.
  • Due to geographical variations in property tax and sales tax revenue (the primary revenue source for cities and counties) and differing attitudes towards priorities, there are variations in the levels of various services from one city to the next. For example, the city of Santa Monica is far more generous when it comes to helping the homeless than other cities in Los Angeles County or the county government.
  • Also, county ordinances do not apply to cities unless they are ratified by each individual city. Thus, for instance, in Los Angeles County, a few cities have not ratified the ordinance requiring the posting of restaurant inspection ratings—even though it was passed many years ago—and in those cities, ratings need not be posted.
  • One consolidated city–county is located in the state, San Francisco. The city's board of supervisors govern both aspects, and there is both a city police department and a county sheriff, the latter mostly responsible for operating the county jail.


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