State of California

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   Introduction    California Top of Page
California is a state spanning the southern half of the west coast of the contiguous United States. California is the largest U.S. state in population and the third largest in area.

The region was inhabited by Native Americans before European explorers started to make sporadic visitations during the 16th Century. California had the highest density and greatest diversity of indigenous peoples in what is now the United States. Spain colonized the coastal areas of the territory starting in 1769. As a result of the Mexican War of Independence, California became a part of the Mexican Republic in 1821. It was subsequently captured by the United States in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) which was concluded with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The California Gold Rush of 1848-1849 brought about 90,000 additional U.S. immigrants into the state, and California became the 31st state of the Union in 1850.

Although the state's sunny climate has given it a historic reputation for being laid back compared to the East Coast, the $1.55 trillion (as of 2005) California economy is larger than all but the top 7 national economies in the world and is responsible for 13% of the United States' $13 trillion gross domestic product (GDP). The state's major predominant industries include agriculture, entertainment, light manufacturing, and tourism. California is also the home of several significant economic regions such as Hollywood (entertainment), the California Central Valley (agriculture), Silicon Valley (computers and high tech), and the Wine Country (wine).

   Geography    California Top of Page
Geographic coordinates:
32°30'N to 42°N
114°8'W to 124°24'W
total: 163,707 sq mi
land: 155,973 sq mi
water: 7,734 sq mi
coastline: 840 miles
shoreline: 3,427 miles
Bordering States:
Arizona, Nevada, Oregon
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Badwater -282 ft
highest point: Mount Whitney 14,505 ft
The state has strikingly beautiful natural features, including an expansive central valley, tall mountains, arid deserts, and hundreds of miles of scenic coastline. With an area of 160,000 square miles (411,000 kmē) it is the third largest state in the U.S and is larger than Germany in size. Most major cities are at or near the Pacific coastline, notably Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Long Beach, Oakland, Santa Ana/Orange County, Riverside/Moreno Valley, San Bernardino and San Diego. However, the capital, Sacramento, is in the Central Valley. The geographic center of the state is located in North Fork, California.

California's geography is rich, complex, and varied. In the middle of the state lies the California Central Valley, a huge, fertile valley bounded by the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the granite Sierra Nevada to the east, the volcanic Cascade Range in the north and the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. Mountain-fed rivers, dams, and canals provide water to irrigate the Central Valley. The water supply for much of the state is provided by the State Water Project. The Central Valley Project supports some municipal water supplies, though it primarily provides water to irrigated agriculture. With dredging, several rivers have become sufficiently large and deep that several inland cities (notably Stockton) are seaports. The hot, fertile Central Valley is California's agricultural heartland and grows a large portion of America's food, yet near freezing temperatures are not uncommon during winter which sometimes wipe out portions of crops. The southern part of the valley, which is part desert, is known as the San Joaquin Valley (drained by the San Joaquin River), while the northern half is known as the Sacramento Valley (drained by the Sacramento River). The Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta is a major estuary that supports a brackish ecosystem while serving as the water supply hub for much of the state's population. The Channel Islands are located in the southern part of the state, stretching from Santa Barbara to Orange County. These islands have few inhabitants, but the northernmost islands are a national park. They and the largest island, Santa Catalina Island are attractive to visitors.

In the center and east of the state are the Sierra Nevada (meaning Snowy Range in Spanish), which include the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4421 m). Also located in the Sierra are the world-famous Yosemite National Park and a deep freshwater lake, Lake Tahoe, the largest lake in the state by volume. To the east of the Sierra are Owens Valley and Mono Lake, an essential seabird habitat. To the west is Clear Lake, California's largest freshwater lake by area. The Sierra Nevada reaches arctic temperatures in the winter and has several dozen small glaciers, including the most southern glacier in the United States (Palisade Glacier).

About 35% of the state's total surface area is covered by forests. California's diversity of pine species is unmatched by any other state. Though other states have a higher percentage of their land area covered by forests, in terms of total area, California contains more forestland than any other state except Alaska. Most of the forest is found in 2 areas: the northwestern part of the state and along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. Smaller forests, mainly consisting of oaks, can be found along the coast ranges of California closer to the coast, and also in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Smaller areas of pine forests can be found in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains of Southern California and also in the mountain areas of central San Diego County. Deserts in California make up about 25% of the total surface area. In the south lay the Transverse Ranges and a large 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 Flat.

Along the densely populated and long California coast are several major metropolitan areas, including San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Santa Ana-Irvine-Anaheim, Riverside-San Bernardino, California and San Diego. Climates near the Pacific Ocean are remarkably moderate compared with inland climates. Winter temperatures seldom reach freezing and summer temperatures rarely reach above the high 80's Fahrenheit (low 30's Celsius).

California is famous for earthquakes due to the presence of a number of faults, in particular the San Andreas Fault. While powerful earthquakes in the United States have occurred in other states such as Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Missouri (along the New Madrid fault), people are more aware of California's earthquakes due to their frequency and tendency to strike in highly populated areas.

California is also home to several volcanoes, some active such as Mammoth Mountain. Other volcanoes include Lassen Peak, which erupted from 1914 and 1921, and Mount Shasta.

   People    California Top of Page
33,871,648 (2000)
Largest City:
Los Angeles: 3,800,000 (2000)
Age structure:
0-5 years old: 7.3%
<18 years old: 26.7%
65 years and over: 10.7%
Male: 49.9% Female: 50.1%
Population growth rate:
6.7% (2000-2005)
Population density:
217.2 per sq mi
Race(2000 Census):
White non-Hispanic: 47.4%
Hispanic: 32.4%
Black: 6.7%
Asian: 12.1%
Native American: 0.5%
Native Hawaiian: 0.5%
Multi-Race: 0.3%
Christian: 75%
Jewish: 2%
Muslim: 2%
Other: 3%
Non-Religious: 19%
   Government    California Top of Page
September 9, 1850 (31st State)
Local and County Government:
California is governed as a republic, with three branches of government: the executive branch consisting of the Governor of California 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.

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. The terms of the Senators are staggered so that half the membership is elected every two years. The Senators representing the odd-numbered districts are elected in years evenly divisible by four, which corresponds to presidential election years. The Senators from the even-numbered districts are elected in the intervening even-numbered years, in the gubernatorial election cycle. California's legislature is organized in such that the party caucus leaders wield great power and can usually speak on behalf of their caucuses. Many important legislative decisions are thus not made on the floor of the legislature but in back-room deals by the "Big Five," which comprises the governor and the Democratic and Republican leaders of each chamber. Members of the Assembly are subject to term limits of 3 terms, and members of the Senate are subject to term limits of 2 terms.

State Tree:
California Redwood
State Bird:
California Quail
State Flower:
California Poppy
   Economy    California Top of Page
Economy - overview:
As of 2005, California's economy is larger than all but seven national economies in the world. Although the state historically has a reputation as being more sunny and laid back compared with the East Coast of the United States, it is responsible for 13% of the United States gross domestic product (GDP), while the state population constitute only 12% of the United States population. The gross state product (GSP) is about $1.55 trillion ($1,550,000,000,000, as of 2004), making it greater than that of every other U.S. state, and most countries in the world (by Purchasing Power Parity). California is also the home of several significant economic regions such as Hollywood (entertainment), the California Central Valley (agriculture), Silicon Valley (computers and high tech), and wine producing regions such as Santa Barbara and Northern California's Wine Country. The predominant industry, more than twice as large as the next, is agriculture, (including fruit, vegetables, dairy, and wine). This is followed by aerospace; entertainment, primarily television by dollar volume, although many movies are still made in California; light manufacturing, including computer hardware and software; and the mining of borax. Per capita personal income was $33,403 as of 2003, ranking 12th in the nation. Per capita income varies widely by geographic region and profession. The Central Valley has the most extreme contrasts of income, with migrant farm workers making less than minimum wage. Recently, the San Joaquin Valley was characterized [4] 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., notably San Francisco and Marin County. The high-technology sectors in Northern California, specifically Silicon Valley, in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, are currently emerging from economic downturn caused by the bust, which caused the loss of over 250,000 jobs in Northern California alone. Recent (Spring 2005) economic data indicate that economic growth has resumed in California, although still slightly below the national annualized forecast of 3.9%. The international boom in housing prices has been most pronounced in California, with the median property price in the state rising to about the half-million dollar mark in April 2005. California levies a 9.3% maximum variable rate income tax, with 6 tax brackets. It collects about 40 Billion dollars in Income tax. California's minimum combined state, county and local sales and use tax is 7.25%. It collects about 28 Billion in sales tax. The rate is higher in cities and counties with special taxing districts. All real property is taxable and shall be assessed at fair market value. California collects a total of 33 Billion dollars in property tax.