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Quarter of California

California Listeni /kælɪˈfɔrnjə/ is the most populous state in the United States, and the third largest by land area, after Alaska and Texas; it is also the second most populous sub-national entity in the Americas, behind only São Paulo, Brazil. California is located on the West Coast of the United States, bordered by Oregon to the north, Nevada to the northeast, Arizona to the southeast, the Mexican state of Baja California to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Its four largest cities are Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco. The state is home to the nation's second and sixth largest census statistical areas as well as eight of the nation's fifty most populous cities. California has a varied climate and geography, and a diverse population.


California's geography ranges from the Pacific coast to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the east, to Mojave desert areas in the southeast and the Redwood–Douglas fir forests of the northwest. The center of the state is dominated by the Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. California is the most geographically diverse state in the nation, and contains the highest (Mount Whitney) and lowest (Death Valley) points in the contiguous United States. Almost 40% of California is forested, a high amount for a relatively arid state.


Beginning in the late 18th century, the area known as Alta California was colonized by the Spanish Empire. In 1821, Mexico, including Alta California, became the First Mexican Empire, beginning as a monarchy, before shifting to a republic. In 1846 a group of American settlers in Sonoma declared the independence of a California Republic. As a result of the Mexican-American War, Mexico ceded California to the United States. It became the 31st state admitted to the union on September 9, 1850.


In the 19th century, the California Gold Rush brought about dramatic social, economic, and demographic change in California, with a large influx of people and an economic boom that caused San Francisco to grow from a hamlet of tents to a world-renowned boomtown. Key developments in the early 20th century included the emergence of Los Angeles as center of the American entertainment industry, and the growth of a large, state-wide tourism sector. In addition to California's prosperous agricultural industry, other important contributors to the economy include aerospace, petroleum, and information technology. If California were a country, it would rank among the ten largest economies in the world, with a GDP similar to that of Italy. It would be the 35th most populous country.


The word California originally referred to the entire region composed of what is today the state of California, plus all or parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming, and the Mexican peninsula of Baja California.


The name California is most commonly believed to have derived from a fictional paradise peopled by Black Amazons and ruled by a Queen Califia. The myth of Califia is recorded in a 1510 work The Exploits of Esplandian, written as a sequel to Amadís de Gaula by Spanish adventure writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The kingdom of Queen Califia or Calafia, according to Montalvo, was said to be a remote land inhabited by griffins and other strange beasts and rich in gold.


Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island named California, very close to that part of the terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women, without a single man among them, and that they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body, with strong and passionate hearts and great virtues. The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks. Their weapons were all made of gold. The island everywhere abounds with gold and precious stones, and upon it no other metal was found.[verification needed]


The name California is the fifth-oldest surviving European place-name in the U.S. and was applied to what is now the southern tip of Baja California as the island of California by a Spanish expedition led by Diego de Becerra and Fortun Ximenez, who landed there in 1533 at the behest of Hernando Cortes.[note 1]


California adjoins the Pacific Ocean, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and the Mexican state of Baja California. With an area of 160,000 square miles (414,000 km2), it is the third-largest state in the United States in size, after Alaska and Texas. If it were a country, California would be the 59th-largest in the world in area.




In the middle of the state lies the California Central Valley, bounded by the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Cascade Range in the north and the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. The Central Valley is California's agricultural heartland and grows approximately one-third of the nation's food.[verification needed][unreliable source?] Divided in two by the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the northern portion, the Sacramento Valley serves as the watershed of the Sacramento River, while the southern portion, the San Joaquin Valley is the watershed for the San Joaquin River; both areas derive their names from the rivers that transit them. With dredging, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers have remained sufficiently deep that several inland cities are seaports. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta serves as a critical water supply hub for the state. Water is routed through an extensive network of canals and pumps out of the delta, that traverse nearly the length of the state, including the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. Water from the Delta provides drinking water for nearly 23 million people, almost two-thirds of the state's population, and provides water to farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. The Channel Islands are located off the southern coast.




The Sierra Nevada (Spanish for "snowy range") includes the highest peak in the contiguous forty-eight states, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 ft (4,421 m). The range embraces Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms on Earth, and the deep freshwater lake, Lake Tahoe, the largest lake in the state by volume.


To the east of the Sierra Nevada are Owens Valley and Mono Lake, an essential migratory bird habitat. In the western part of the state is Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake by area entirely in California. Though Lake Tahoe is larger, it is divided by the California/Nevada border. The Sierra Nevada falls to Arctic temperatures in winter and has several dozen small glaciers, including Palisade Glacier, the southernmost glacier in the United States.


About 45 percent of the state's total surface area is covered by forests, and California's diversity of pine species is unmatched by any other state. California contains more forestland than any other state except Alaska. Many of the trees in the California White Mountains are the oldest in the world; one Bristlecone pine has an age of 4,700 years.


In the south is a large inland salt lake, the Salton Sea. The south-central desert is called the Mojave; to the northeast of the Mojave lies Death Valley, which contains the lowest, hottest point in North America, Badwater Basin. The distance from the lowest point of Death Valley to the peak of Mount Whitney is less than 200 miles (322 km). Indeed, almost all of southeastern California is arid, hot desert, with routine extreme high temperatures during the summer.


Along the California coast are several major metropolitan areas, including Greater Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego.


As part of the Ring of Fire, California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, Santa Ana winds, wildfires, landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes. It sees numerous earthquakes due to several faults, in particular the San Andreas Fault.




California climate varies from Mediterranean to subarctic.


Much of the state has a Mediterranean climate, with cool, rainy winters and dry summers. The cool California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast. Further inland, one encounters colder winters and hotter summers.


Northern parts of the state average higher annual rainfall than the south. California's mountain ranges influence the climate as well: some of the rainiest parts of the state are west-facing mountain slopes. Northwestern California has a temperate climate, and the Central Valley has a Mediterranean climate but with greater temperature extremes than the coast. The high mountains, including the Sierra Nevada, have a mountain climate with snow in winter and mild to moderate heat in summer.




The east side of California's mountains produce a rain shadow, creating expansive deserts. The higher elevation deserts of eastern California see hot summers and cold winters, while the low deserts east of the southern California mountains experience hot summers and nearly frostless mild winters. Death Valley, a desert with large expanses below sea level, is considered the hottest location in North America; the highest temperature in the Western Hemisphere, 134 °F (57 °C), was recorded there on July 10, 1913.


California is one of the richest and most diverse parts of the world, and includes some of the most endangered ecological communities. California is part of the Nearctic ecozone and spans a number of terrestrial ecoregions.




California's large number of endemic species includes relict species, which have died out elsewhere, such as the Catalina Ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus). Many other endemics originated through differentiation or adaptive radiation, whereby multiple species develop from a common ancestor to take advantage of diverse ecological conditions such as the California lilac (Ceanothus). Many California endemics have become endangered, as urbanization, logging, overgrazing, and the introduction of exotic species have encroached on their habitat.


California boasts several superlatives in its collection of flora: the largest trees, the tallest trees, and the oldest trees. California's native grasses are perennial plants. After European contact, these were generally replaced by invasive species of European annual grasses; and, in modern times, California's hills turn a characteristic golden-brown in summer.


The most prominent rivers within California are the Sacramento River, the Pit River and the San Joaquin River, which drain the Central Valley and the west slope of the Sierra Nevada and flow to the Pacific Ocean through San Francisco Bay. Some other important rivers are the Klamath River and the Trinity River, in the north, and the Colorado River, on the southeast border. The Owens River takes runoff from the southeastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada and flows into Owens Lake. The Eel River and Salinas River each drain portions of the California coast, north and south of San Francisco Bay, respectively. The Mojave River is the primary watercourse in the Mojave Desert and the Santa Ana River drains much of the Transverse Ranges and bisects Southern California.








California Poppy closeup.jpg

Settled by successive waves of arrivals during the last 10,000 years, California was one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in pre-Columbian North America; the area was inhabited by more than 70 distinct groups of Native Americans. Large, settled populations lived on the coast and hunted sea mammals, fished for salmon and gathered shellfish; groups in the interior hunted terrestrial game, and gathered nuts, acorns and berries. California groups also were diverse in their political organization with bands, tribes, villages, and on the resource-rich coasts, large chiefdoms, such as the Chumash, Pomo and Salinan. Trade, intermarriage and military alliances fostered many social and economic relationships among the diverse groups.


The first European to explore the coast as far north as the Russian River was the Portuguese João Rodrigues Cabrilho, in 1542, sailing for the Spanish Empire. Some 37 years later English explorer Francis Drake also explored and claimed an undefined portion of the California coast in 1579. Spanish traders made unintended visits with the Manila Galleons on their return trips from the Philippines beginning in 1565. Sebastián Vizcaíno explored and mapped the coast of California in 1602 for New Spain.


Spanish missionaries began setting up 21 California Missions along the coast of what became known as Alta California (Upper California), together with small towns and presidios. In 1821 the Mexican War of Independence gave Mexico (including California) independence from Spain; for the next 25 years, Alta California remained a remote northern province of the nation of Mexico. Cattle ranches, or ranchos, emerged as the dominant institutions of Mexican California. After Mexican independence from Spain, the chain of missions became the property of the Mexican government and were secularized by 1832. The ranchos developed under ownership by Californios (Spanish-speaking Californians) who had received land grants, and traded cowhides and tallow with Boston merchants.


Beginning in the 1820s, trappers and settlers from the U.S. and Canada began to arrive in Northern California, harbingers of the great changes that would later sweep the Mexican territory. These new arrivals used the Siskiyou Trail, California Trail, Oregon Trail and Old Spanish Trail to cross the rugged mountains and harsh deserts surrounding California. In this period, Imperial Russia explored the California coast and established a trading post at Fort Ross.




In 1846 settlers rebelled against Mexican rule during the Bear Flag Revolt. Afterwards, rebels raised the Bear Flag (featuring a bear, a star, a red stripe and the words "California Republic") at Sonoma.


—William Ide, Declaration from the Bear Flag Revolt


The Republic's first and only president was William B. Ide, who played a pivotal role during the Bear Flag Revolt. His term lasted 22 days and concluded when California was occupied by U.S. forces during the Mexican-American War.


The California Republic was short lived. The same year marked the outbreak of the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). When Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy sailed into Monterey Bay and began the military occupation of California by the United States. Northern California capitulated in less than a month to the U.S. forces. After a series of defensive battles in Southern California, including The Siege of Los Angeles, the Battle of Dominguez Rancho, the Battle of San Pasqual, the Battle of Rio San Gabriel and the Battle of La Mesa, the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed by the Californios on January 13, 1847, securing American control in California. Following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war, the region was divided between Mexico and the U.S.; the western territory of Alta California, was to become the U.S. state of California, and Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah became U.S. Territories, while the lower region of California, Baja California, remained in the possession of Mexico.


In 1848 the non-native population of California was estimated to be no more than 15,000. But after gold was discovered, the population burgeoned with U.S. citizens, Europeans and other immigrants during the great California Gold Rush. On September 9, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted to the United States as a free state (one in which slavery was prohibited).


The seat of government for California under Mexican rule was located at Monterey from 1777 until 1835, when Mexican authorities abandoned California, leaving their missions and military forts behind.[verification needed] In 1849 the Constitutional Convention was first held there. Among the duties was the task of determining the location for the new state capital. The first legislative sessions were held in San Jose (1850–1851). Subsequent locations included Vallejo (1852–1853), and nearby Benicia (1853–1854); these locations eventually proved to be inadequate as well. The capital has been located in Sacramento since 1854 with only a short break in 1861 when legislative sessions were held in San Francisco due to flooding in Sacramento.


Travel between California and the central and eastern parts of the U.S. was time consuming and dangerous. A more direct connection came in 1869 with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad through Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains. After this rail link was established, hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens came west, where new Californians were discovering that land in the state, if irrigated during the dry summer months, was extremely well-suited to fruit cultivation and agriculture in general. Vast expanses of wheat, other cereal crops, vegetable crops, cotton, and nut and fruit trees were grown (including oranges in Southern California), and the foundation was laid for the state's prodigious agricultural production in the Central Valley and elsewhere.


During the early-20th century, migration to California accelerated with the completion of major transcontinental highways like the Lincoln Highway and Route 66. In the period from 1900 to 1965 the population grew from fewer than one million to become the most populous state in the Union. The state is regarded as a world center of technology and engineering businesses, of the entertainment and music industries, and as the U.S. center of agricultural production.




California's population is estimated by the US Census Bureau at 36,961,664 for the year 2009, making it the most populous state. This includes a natural increase of 3,090,016 since the last census (5,058,440 births minus 2,179,958 deaths). During this time period, international migration produced a net increase of 1,816,633 people while domestic migration produced a net decrease of 1,509,708, resulting in a net in-migration of 306,925 people. The State of California's own statistics show a population of 38,292,687 for January 1, 2009.


California is the second-most-populous sub-national entity of the Western Hemisphere, exceeded only by São Paulo, Brazil.[improper synthesis?][unreliable source?] California's population is greater than that of all but 34 countries of the world. Also, Los Angeles County has held the title of most populous U.S. county for decades, and it alone is more populous than 42 U.S. states. The center of population of California is located in the town of Buttonwillow, Kern County.[note 2]


In 2010, illegal immigrants constituted an estimated 7.3% of the population. This was the third highest percentage of any state in the country.


California is home to eight of the 50 most populous cities in the United States.[citation needed]


According to the 2006–2008 American Community Survey, California's population is:


With regard to demographics, California has the largest population of White Americans in the U.S., an estimated 22,189,514 residents, although most demographic surveys do not measure actual genetic ancestry. The state has the fifth-largest population of African Americans in the U.S., an estimated 2,250,630 residents. California's Asian American population is estimated at 4.4 million, approximately one-third of the nation's 13.1 million Asian Americans. California's Native American population of 285,162 is the most of any state.


According to estimates from 2008, California has the largest minority population in the United States by numbers, making up 57 percent of the state population. Non-Hispanic whites decreased from 80% of the state's population in 1970 to 42% in 2008. While the population of minorities account for 102 million of 301 million U.S. residents, 20% of the national total live in California.



As of 2002, the US Department of Defense had [unreliable source?]


As of 2000 there were 2,569,340 veterans of US military service: 504,010 served in World War II, 301,034 in the Korean conflict, 754,682 during the Vietnam era, and 278,003 during 1990–2000 (including the Persian Gulf War).


California's military forces consist of the Army and Air National Guard, the naval and state military reserve (militia), and the California Cadet Corps.


As of 2005, 57.59% of California residents age five and older spoke English as a first language at home, while 28.21% spoke Spanish. In addition to English and Spanish, 2.04% spoke Filipino, 1.59% spoke Chinese (which included Cantonese [0.63%] and Mandarin [0.43%]), 1.4% spoke Vietnamese, and 1.05% spoke Korean as their mother tongue. In total, 42.4% of the population spoke languages other than English. California is viewed as one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world (the indigenous languages were derived from 64 root languages in 6 language families). About half of the indigenous languages are no longer spoken, and all of California's living indigenous languages are endangered and there are some efforts toward language revitalization.[which?]


The official language of California has been English since the passage of Proposition 63 in 1986. However, many state, city, and local government agencies still continue to print official public documents in numerous languages.


The culture of California is a Western culture and most clearly has its modern roots in the culture of the United States, but also, historically, many Hispanic influences. As a border and coastal state, Californian culture has been greatly influenced by several large immigrant populations, especially those from Latin America and East Asia. California is a true melting pot as well as an international crossroad to the U.S.


California has long been a subject of interest in the public mind and has often been promoted by its boosters as a kind of paradise. In the early 20th Century, fueled by the efforts of state and local boosters, many Americans saw the Golden State as an ideal resort destination, sunny and dry all year round with easy access to the ocean and mountains. In the 1960s, popular music groups such as the Beach Boys promoted the image of Californians as laid-back, tanned beach-goers.


In terms of socio-cultural mores and national politics, Californians are perceived as more liberal than other Americans, especially those who live in the inland states. In some ways, California is the quintessential Blue State-- accepting of alternative lifestyles, not uniformly religious, and preoccupied with environmental issues.


The gold rush of the 1850s is still seen as a symbol of California's economic style, which tends to generate technology, social, entertainment, and economic fads and booms and related busts.




The largest Christian denominations by number of adherents in 2000 were the Roman Catholic Church with 10,079,310; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 529,575; and the Southern Baptist Convention with 471,119. Jewish congregations had 994,000 adherents.


There are about 1 million Muslims, which has the largest population than any other state, mainly of African American descent and immigrant populations.[improper synthesis?] The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that approximately 100,000 Muslims reside in San Diego.


As the twentieth century came to a close, forty percent of all Buddhists in America resided in Southern California. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Area has become unique in the Buddhist world as the only place where representative organizations of every major school of Buddhism can be found in a single urban center.[verification needed] The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Northern California and Hsi Lai Temple in Southern California are two of the largest Buddhist temples in the Western Hemisphere.


California has more members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Temples than any state except Utah. Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have played important roles in the settlement of California throughout the state's history. For example, a group of a few hundred Mormon converts from the Northeastern United States and Europe arrived at what would become San Francisco in the 1840s aboard the ship Brooklyn, more than doubling the population of the small town. Before being called back to Utah by Brigham Young these settlers helped build up the city of Yerba Buena. A group of Mormons also established the city of San Bernardino in Southern California in 1851. According to the LDS Church 2007 statistics, just over 750,000 Mormons reside in the state of California, attending almost 1400 congregations statewide.


However, a Pew Research Center survey revealed that California is somewhat less religious than the rest of the US: 62 percent of Californians say they are "absolutely certain" of the belief in God, while in the nation 71 percent say so. The survey also revealed 48 percent of Californians say religion is "very important," compared to 56 percent nationally.




As of 2007, the gross state product (GSP) is about $1.812 trillion, the largest in the United States. California is responsible for 13 percent of the United States gross domestic product (GDP). As of 2006, California's GDP is larger than all but eight countries in the world (all but eleven countries by Purchasing Power Parity). However, California is facing a $26.3 billion budget deficit for the 2009–2010 budget year. While the legislative bodies had appeared to address the problem in 2008 with the three-month delayed passage of a budget they in fact only postponed the deficit to 2009 and due to the late 2008 decline in the economy and the credit crisis the problem became urgent in November 2008. One problem is that a substantial portion of the state income comes from income taxes on a small proportion of wealthy citizens. For example, in 2004, the richest 3% of state taxpayers paid approximately 60% of all state taxes. The taxable income of this population is highly dependent upon capital gains, which has been severely impacted by the stock market declines of this period. The governor has proposed a combination of extensive program cuts and tax increases to address this problem, but owing to longstanding problems in the legislature these proposals are likely to be difficult to pass as legislation.


State spending increased from $56 billion in 1998 to $131 billion in 2008, and the state was facing a budget deficit of $40 billion in 2008. California is facing another budget gap for 2010, with $72 billion in debt. California's unemployment rate exceeds 12%.



In terms of jobs, the five largest sectors in California are trade, transportation, and utilities; government; professional and business services; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality. In terms of output, the five largest sectors are financial services, followed by trade, transportation, and utilities; education and health services; government; and manufacturing.


California currently has the 5th highest unemployment rate in the nation at 12.5% as of January 2010 and had continued to rise, up significantly from 5.9% in 2007.


California's economy is very dependent on trade and international related commerce accounts for approximately one-quarter of the state’s economy. In 2008, California exported $144 billion worth of goods, up from $134 billion in 2007 and $127 billion in 2006. Computers and electronic products are California's top export, accounting for 42 percent of all the state's exports in 2008.


Agriculture is an important sector in California's economy. Farming-related sales more than quadrupled over the past three decades, from $7.3 billion in 1974 to nearly $31 billion in 2004.[dated info] This increase has occurred despite a 15 percent decline in acreage devoted to farming during the period, and water supply suffering from chronic instability. Factors contributing to the growth in sales-per-acre include more intensive use of active farmlands and technological improvements in crop production.


Per capita GDP in 2007 was $38,956, ranking eleventh in the nation. Per capita income varies widely by geographic region and profession. The Central Valley is the most impoverished, with migrant farm workers making less than minimum wage. Recently, the San Joaquin Valley was characterized as one of the most economically depressed regions in the U.S., on par with the region of Appalachia. Many coastal cities include some of the wealthiest per-capita areas in the U.S. The high-technology sectors in Northern California, specifically Silicon Valley, in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, have emerged from the economic downturn caused by the dot-com bust.


California levies a 9.3 percent maximum variable rate income tax, with six tax brackets. It collects about $40 billion per year in income taxes. California has a state sales tax of 8.25%, which can total up to 10.75% with local sales tax included. All real property is taxable annually, the tax based on the property's fair market value at the time of purchase or completion of new construction. This tax increases with inflation rather than the rise in real property values, and is capped at 2% per year (see Proposition 13).


In 2009 the California economic crisis became severe as the state faced insolvency.[dated info] In June 2009 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said "Our wallet is empty, our bank is closed and our credit is dried up." He called for massive budget cuts of $24 billion, about 1⁄4 of the state's budget.


In 2010, there were more than 663,000 millionaires in the state, more than any other state in the nation.


Due to its mild weather and strong environmental movement, its per capita energy use is one of the smallest of any U.S. state.


In 1984, the Davis City Council declared the city to be a nuclear free zone. California has banned the approval of new nuclear reactors since the late 1970s because of concerns over radioactive waste disposal.[note 3]






California's vast terrain is connected by an extensive system of freeways, expressways, and highways. California is known for its car culture, giving California's cities a reputation for severe traffic congestion. Construction and maintenance of state roads and statewide transportation planning are primarily the responsibility of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The rapidly growing population of the state is straining all of its transportation networks, and a recurring issue in California politics is whether the state should continue to aggressively expand its freeway network or concentrate on improving mass transit networks in urban areas.


One of the state's more visible landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937. With its orange paint and panoramic views of the bay, this highway bridge is a popular tourist attraction and also accommodates pedestrians and bicyclists. It is simultaneously designated as U.S. Route 101, which is part of the El Camino Real (Spanish for Royal Road or King's Highway), and State Route 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. Another of the seven bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area is the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, completed in 1936. This bridge transports approximately 280,000 vehicles per day on two-decks, with its two sections meeting at Yerba Buena Island.


Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport are major hubs for trans-Pacific and transcontinental traffic. There are about a dozen important commercial airports and many more general aviation airports throughout the state.


California also has several important seaports. The giant seaport complex formed by the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach in Southern California is the largest in the country and responsible for handling about a fourth of all container cargo traffic in the United States. The Port of Oakland, fourth largest in the nation, handles trade from the Pacific Rim and delivers most of the ocean containers passing through Northern California to the entire USA.




Intercity rail travel is provided by Amtrak California, which manages the three busiest intercity rail lines in the US outside the Northeast Corridor. Integrated subway and light rail networks are found in Los Angeles (Metro Rail) and San Francisco (MUNI Metro). Light rail systems are also found in San Jose (VTA), San Diego (San Diego Trolley), Sacramento (RT Light Rail), and Northern San Diego County (Sprinter). Furthermore, commuter rail networks serve the San Francisco Bay Area (ACE, BART, Caltrain), Greater Los Angeles (Metrolink), and San Diego County (Coaster). The California High Speed Rail Authority was created in 1996 by the state to implement an extensive 700 mile (1127 km) rail system. Construction was approved by the voters during the November 2008 general election, a $9.95 billion state bond will go toward its construction. Nearly all counties operate bus lines, and many cities operate their own bus lines as well. Intercity bus travel is provided by Greyhound and Amtrak Thruway Coach.




California is governed as a republic, with three branches of government — the executive branch consisting of the Governor and the other independently elected constitutional officers; the legislative branch consisting of the Assembly and Senate; and the judicial branch consisting of the Supreme Court of California and lower courts. The state also allows direct participation of the electorate by initiative, referendum, recall, and ratification. California allows each political party to choose whether to have a closed primary or a primary where only party members and independents vote. The state's capital is Sacramento.


The Governor of California and the other state constitutional officers serve four-year terms and may be re-elected only once. The California State Legislature consists of a 40-member Senate and 80-member Assembly. Senators serve four-year terms and Assembly members two. Members of the Assembly are subject to term limits of three terms, and members of the Senate are subject to term limits of two terms.


In the 2007–2008 session, there were 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans in the Assembly. In the Senate, there are 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans. The governor is Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.


California's legal system is explicitly based on English common law (as is the case with all other states except Louisiana) but carries a few features from Spanish civil law, such as community property. Capital punishment is a legal form of punishment and the state has the largest "Death Row" population in the country (though Texas is far more active in carrying out executions). California's "Death Row" is in San Quentin State Prison situated north of San Francisco in Marin County. Executions in California are currently on hold indefinitely as human rights issues are addressed. The number of inmates in California prisons has soared from 25,000 in 1980 to over 170,000 in 2007.


California's judiciary is the largest in the United States (with a total of 1,600 judges, while the federal system has only about 840). It is supervised by the seven Justices of the Supreme Court of California. Justices of the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal are appointed by the Governor, but are subject to retention by the electorate every 12 years.


California has an idiosyncratic political culture. It was the second state to legalize abortion and the second state to legalize marriage for gay couples (by judicial review, which was later revoked by the ballot initiative, Proposition 8).


Since 1990, California has generally elected Democratic candidates; however, the state has elected Republican Governors, though many of its Republican Governors, such as Governor Schwarzenegger, tend to be considered "Moderate Republicans" and more centrist than the national party.


Democratic strength is centered in coastal regions of Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Democrats also hold a majority in Sacramento. Republican strength is greatest in eastern parts of the state. Orange County also remains mostly Republican.


California politics has trended towards the Democratic Party and away from the Republican Party. The trend is most obvious in presidential elections. Additionally, the Democrats have easily won every U.S. Senate race since 1992 and have maintained consistent majorities in both houses of the state legislature. In the U.S. House, the Democrats hold a 34–19 edge for the 110th United States Congress. The U.S senators are Dianne Feinstein (D), a native of San Francisco, and Barbara Boxer (D). The districts in California are usually dominated by one or the other party with very few districts that could be considered competitive. Once very conservative having elected Republicans, California is now a reliable Democratic state. According to political analysts, California should soon gain three more seats, for a total of 58 electoral votes – the most electoral votes in the nation.


The state's local government is divided into 58 counties and 480 incorporated cities and towns; of which 458 are cities and 22 are towns. Under California law, the terms "city" and "town" are explicitly interchangeable; the name of an incorporated municipality in the state can either be "City of (Name)" or "Town of (Name)".


Sacramento became California's first incorporated city on February 27, 1850. San Jose, San Diego and Benicia tied for California's second incorporated city, each receiving incorporation on March 27, 1850. Menifee became the state's most recent and 480th incorporated municipality on October 1, 2008.


The majority of these cities and towns are within one of five metropolitan areas. Sixty-eight percent of California's population lives in its three largest metropolitan areas, Greater Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Riverside-San Bernardino Area (



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