California was the name given to the North-Western part of the Spanish Empire in North America, which following the Mexican-American War of 1847 was divided between the Mexican state of Baja California and "Alta California" which became the U.S. State of California.
It has striking natural features, including a huge fertile central valley, high mountains, and hot dry deserts. With an area of 410,000 km2 it is the third largest state in the U.S.
With more than 30 million residents California is the most populous state in the U.S., having 12% of the total U.S. population. It is responsible for 14% of American gross domestic product, which at $1,381 billion is greater than every country in the world save for the U.S., Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The predominant industry, more than twice as large as the next smallest, is agriculture, (including fruit, vegetables, dairy, and wine). This is followed by aerospace, entertainment, primarily TV by dollar volume, although many movies are still made, and light manufacturing including computer hardware and software, and mining of borax.
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, contrasted with farmers who frequently manage multimillion-dollar farms. Most farm managers are highly educated, most with at least master's degrees. While cities include some of the wealthiest per-capita areas in the U.S., notably Irvine in Orange County, the non-agricultural central counties have some of the highest poverty rates in the U.S. The high-technology sectors in Orange County and the Santa Clara ("Silicon") Valley are currently in a recession because of the dot.com bust, but medical systems, video games and animation are taking up the slack.
A particular problem with California's economy is that it does not attract manufacturing. The 8% sales tax makes it uneconomic to site major factories, because that tax must be paid on the capital equipment. California also has unusually high unemployment and worker's compensation (for on-the-job injury) taxes. Major manufacturers, especially aerospace, are also leaving the state or shifting production. For this reason, no major new factories have been built in California for many years, and the state suffers a severe lack of good-paying manufacturing jobs. This means that the middle class in California consists almost entirely of small businessmen and construction and transportation workers, with a small leavening of knowledge workers -- a nearly pure service economy. Manufacturing costs are made even higher by high land and housing prices, which cause workers to need very high pay.
In 2001 the Small Business Survival Committee ranked California among the worst states in the U.S. to run a small business. It was in 44th place.
Politics and Government
The basic form of law is a republic, governed by democratically elected representatives. The governing law is a constitution, interpreted by the California Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the Governor, and ratified at the next general election.
The constitution can be changed by intiatives passed by voters. Initiatives can be proposed by the Governor, Legislature, or by popular petition, making California one of the most flexible democratic republics in the world.
The constitution makes the California legislature bicameral, with a Senate, and an Assembly. It also defines an executive branch headed by a governor.
The Governor has the authority to administer all government actions, and call on the militia.
A unique property of the state constitution is that it requires 40% of the state budget to be spent on education. As a result, California has one of the best-funded school systems anywhere.
A unique institution is the state legislative analyst, whose office of several hundred persons analyzes the effects of laws for the california legislature. The analyst's most visible public act is to write the impartial ballot booklet analyses of likely effects of initiatives and bond measures placed before the voters.
There have been several constitutional crises over the last twenty years: The passage of term limits for the California legislature (which was hotly argued state-wide, and debated in the supreme court of California); a test of the ratification process for the supreme court (in which a liberal chief justice, Rose Bird, was ousted); and a full-fledged tax revolt, "Proposition 13," which resulted in the freezing of property tax rates at the property's last sale price. Various anti-tax organizations remain well-funded and active.
Because most population is in cities, California tends to be liberal. The major tension in California is between the money, which lies in the Central Valley agricultural districts, with conservative, mostly Republican farmers, and the cities, where most voters are Democrats.
The most sought-after legislative committee appointments are to banking, agriculture and insurance. These are called "juice" committees, because they aid the fund-raising of their members.
In general, the most divisive single issues concern water, and water rights. Water is limited, mostly from mountain runoff (70%), wells (limited by salt-water incursion and overuse), and some Colorado River water (strictly limited by treaties with the other western states and Mexico). Waste water reclamation in California is already routine (for irrigation). City-dwellers' property taxes pay for most water projects, but 75% of the water is used by farmers. This causes periodic water-rights initiatives and tax revolts in the cities, especially in droughts when city water is rationed so farmers can keep fruit trees and vineyards alive. Also, most water is in the north of the state, while most people are in the south. This causes many north vs. south disputes, the most famous being the Peripheral Canal, a proposed project to divert water from the Sacramento River delta (the Bay Area) to Southern California (Los Angeles).
Land-use is also divisive. High land prices mean that ordinary people keep a large proportion of their net worth in land. This leads them to agitate strongly about issues that can affect the prices of their home or investments. The most vicious local political battles concern local school boards (good local schools substantially raise local housing prices) and local land-use policies. In built-up areas it is extremely difficult to site new airports, dumps or jails. Graft and developer influence on local politics might be rife, since many cities routinely employ eminent domain to make land available for development. Currently (2001), a multi-city political battle is being fought in Orange County concerning the decommissioning of the huge El Toro Marine airbase. Orange County needs a new airport, (pilot unions voted the existing airport, John Wayne, as the least safe in the U.S.) but the noise might reduce land prices throughout the southern part of county, including wealthy, politically-powerful Irvine.
Gun-control is another divisive issue. In the cities, California has one of the U.S.'s most serious gang problems, and in some farming regions, some of the highest murder rates. The state also contains many individuals who desire to keep and bear arms. These facts motivated the legislature to pass gun-control laws. Private purchase of military semi-automatic rifles is a felony. The law does not prohibit sales of semi-automatic hunting-style civilian weapons, which might be intended to be a distinction without a difference. Pistols may be purchased and concealed in one's home or place of business, but it is illegal to carry weapons or ammunition outside these areas without a concealed weapons permit, except in a locked area (car trunk) to licensed practice ranges or other legitimate uses (hunting, repair, collection, etc.) Most people find it impossible to get concealed weapons permits. California is not a "shall issue" state for concealed weapons permits. (This information should not be taken as legal advice.) (ref. section 12000 of the California State Penal Code at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html)
An excellent reference is "California, Its Government and Politics" by Michael J. Ross.
Desert climate with temperature extremes and 10 inches/year of rain in the south. Mediterranean climate with wet winters and dry summers along the coast. Temperate climate with 15-40 inches/year rainfall in the north. Continental climate with chilly winters and very hot summers in the Central Valley. Mountain climate with snow in winter and moderate heat in summer.
Biotopes: desert, savannah with scattered oaks, second-growth taiga (coniferous forest), espcially in the north and at high altitudes. Mountain-tops contain tundra, fellfields (stoney ground with patches of meadow), and krumwald (dwarf forests).
California's educational system is supported by a unique consitutional amendment that requires 40% of state revenues to be spent on education.
The preeminent university is the University of California, which employs more Nobel-Prize winners than any other institution in the world. It has several campuses, notably in Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Francisco (no undergraduate programs), Irvine, Riverside and Santa Barbara. It is intended to accept students from the upper 20% of college-bound students, and provide most graduate studies and research. The preeminent law school is Berkeley Law School. The preeminent medical school is the University of California at San Francisco. The University of California also administers federal laboratories for the Federal Department of Energy: Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
The California State Universities educate for the trades, agriculture and industry. They are intended to accept most college-bound high-school students, and give excellent value in education, while providing some research, especially in applied sciences. Lower-division courses are frequently transferrable to the University of California.
The community college system educates students in the trades, providing certificates, and associate-arts degrees. It also provides lower division general-education courses transferrable to the State University and the University of California.
Preeminent private instutions include Stanford University, the University of Southern California (USC), and the California Polytechnic Institute (Cal Tech) (which administers the Jet Propulsion Lab for NASA).
California has hundreds of excellent private colleges and universities, including many religious and special-purpose institutions. This leads to many unique entertainment and educational opportunities for residents. For example, Southern California, with one of the highest densities of post-secondary instutions in the world, has a very large base of classically trained vocalists that compete in large choir festivals. Near Los Angeles, there are numerous art and film institutes, including the prestigious Motion Picture Academy and the Art Institute.
Secondary education consists of high schools that teach elective courses in trades, languages and liberal arts with tracks for gifted, college-bound and industrial arts students. They accept students from roughly age 14 to 18, with mandatory education ceasing at age 16. In many districts, Junior High Schools teach electives with a strong skills-based curriculum, for ages from 11 to 13. Elementary schools teach pure skills, history and social-studies, with optional half-day Kindergartens beginning at 5. Mandatory full-time instruction begins at age 6.
The primary schools are of varing effectiveness. Quality of the local schools depends strongly on the local tax base, and the size of the local administration. In some regions, administrative costs divert a significant amount of educational monies from instructional purposes. In poor regions, literacy rates may fall below 70%.
The central feature of the state is the Central Valley, a huge, fertile valley between the coastal mountain ranges (Diablo, and Tehachapi) and the Sierra Nevadas to the east. In the north, the Central Valley is bounded by the Cascades, a rugged mountainous pinewood wilderness that borders Oregon. The northern part of the Central Valley is called the Sacramento Valley, after its river, and the southern part is called the San Joaquin (pronounced san waukeen) Valley, after its river. The whole Central Valley is watered by mouuntain-fed rivers (Notably the San Joaquin, King, and Sacramento) that drain to the San Francisco Bay. The rivers are sufficiently large and deep that several inland cities, notably Stockton, are seaports.
In the center and east of the state are the Sierra Nevada Mountains, containing the highest peak in the continental U.S., Mt. Whitney, at 4418 meters (14,495 ft). The Sierras are a young, rugged mountain range created by the grinding of the Pacific plate agains the North American plate.
The Sierras have 200 sunny days each year, warm summers, fierce winters and access to varied terrain (desert, fertile valleys, lakes and snow). The rare combination of rugged variety and pleasant weather leads many mountaineers to say that they are the most beautiful and accessible mountains in the world. The famous, jewel-like Yosemite valley lies in the North Sierras, as does the large, deep freshwater Lake Tahoe. These features inspired the founding of the Sierra Club and the Alpine Club, public-service clubs of mountaineers devoted to maintaining trails and lodges and forming outings to explore the Sierras. The most famous hiking and horse-packing trail in the Sierras is the John Muir trail, which goes from the top of Mt. Whitney to Yosemite valley, and which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail that goes from Mexico to Canada.
A unique peculiarity of the Sierra Nevadas is that under certain wind conditions, a large circular tube of air begins to roll on the south east side. This "rotor" is so perfectly symmetrical that it drives a series of higher counter-rotating rotors. This effect proceeds higher than most aircraft are able to reach. All recent world altitude records set in unpowered aircraft were set in the Sierra Nevada Rotor, most flown from Mojave Airport.
In the west are the coastal ranges, the Diablo Range, leading up to San Francisco, and in the south, the Tehachapi and Santa Monica Mountains, just north of Los Angeles.
In the south of the state, the San Bernardino mountains loom purple from the central desert above Palm Springs. The highest point of the range is Mt. San Gorgonio, whose east shoulder has a cable tram from the desert to a ski-resort in the pine wilderness. The southern part of the San Bernadinos contains Mt. Palomar, site of the famous 200 inch telescope. The north shoulder of the San Bernardino range forms a natural funnel for the prevailing winds, and this funnel is filled with large wind turbines that produce wind powered electricty.
The deserts in the south and east are caused by a combination of the cold off-shore current, which limits evaporation, and the mountains' "rain shadow." The prevailing winds blow from the ocean inland. When the air passes over the mountains, adiabatic cooling causes most water in the air to rain on the mountains. When the air returns to sea-level on the other side of the mountains, it recompresses, warms and dries, parching the desert.
In the south central desert, there is a large salt lake, the Salton Sea, which is below sea level. The south-central desert is called the Mojave.
Just to the north east of the Mojave, in the rain-shadow of the high southern Sierras, lies a low, dried salt lake, the lowest, hottest place on Earth, Death Valley, which normally approaches 120 degrees in late July and early August.
Sea temperatures rarely exceed 65 degrees, even in summer, because of up-welling deep waters with dissolved nutrients. Therefore, most sea life in and around California more closely resemble arctic, rather than tropical biotopes. As a result, the sea off California is remarkably fertile, a murky green filled with fish, rather than the clear dead blue of most tropical seas. Before 1930, there was an extremely valuable herring fishery off Monterey, but this was depleted.
The west coast north of San Francisco is foggy and rainy. It grows the California Redwood, the largest tree on Earth.
Many indian tribes flourished in California. They tended to specialize by biotope. No tribe developed agriculture or writing. California was a major source of trading beads, "wampum" which were produced from mussel shells using stone tools.
In the 1600s, Spain explored and settled the fertile coastal areas. To maintain communication, they developed a central highway, "El Camino Real" that connected a series of settlements called missions, that were used to subjicate and convert the Indians to Christianity. The missions were spaced one day's travel apart, and penetrated as far north as San Francisco. Most missions remain in existence, and many retain congregations. El Camino Real is the route of a major highway, U.S. 101. The Indians died by diseases carried by the Spaniards.
Spanish California had a long sleepy history until 1849. The Spanish encouraged settlement with large land-grants. These were used for ranches with cattle and sheep. Hides for leather were the primary export of California until the mid-19th century. The owners of these "rancheros" were called "californios".
In the early 1800s the Russian Empire, which had already claimed Alaska, briefly explored the west-coast, and set-up trading posts as far south as Fort Ross. A prominent marriage between a leading californio family and an imperial noble almost caused Russian trade to advance into Southern California. The scion from Russia died of disease while crossing Siberia to get a dispensation to marry a Catholic from the Eastern Orthodox Elders. She entered a convent.
In 1848, gold was discovered in the Sierra Foothills, at Sutters Mill about 40 miles east of Sacramento. This started a gold rush of immigrants, mostly from the U.S. The merchants to support the mining settled in the nearest deep-water seaport, San Francisco Bay. Gold is still found in many watersheds, in amounts near 3/4 oz./ton, an amount that would be economical to mine, except for California's pollution laws, and a Federal court's prohibition on hydraulic mining.
In the 1850s, after a series of revolutions in Mexico upset settlers, California briefly declared its independence as the California Republic. A number of battles were fought in south-central California between Mexican troops and California Volunteers. Slightly later, the Republic applied to the U.S. for protection from Mexico, and the U.S. annexed California and large portions of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico from Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildalgo.
After the U.S. annexation, California was neutral territory in the [U.S. Civil War|War Between the States]]. At this time, the U.S. established a number of military bases to control California, notably the coastal defenses of San Diego and San Francisco Bays, and Ft. Tejon, where the El Camino Real passes through Tejon Pass into the central valley.
During this time, the Central Valley of California remained relatively unpopulated because it was warm year-around. The lack of frost caused reservoirs of mosquito-borne disease, notably yellow fever and malaria. The discovery of vector control strategies during the Spanish-american, and Panama Canal made settlement possible. Vector control in some areas still remains a major duty of local public health organizations.
With the Trancontinental Railway and the Suez Canal creating more permanent links to the east coast of the United States, and the Spanish-American War establishing that the United States was an international power, military bases were established to help protect the new U. S. teritories in the Philipines.
Hoover Dam resulted from an 1883 study by the University of California. As an unpopulated desert, Southern California lacked water, energy, and raw materials, and parts of the best farming country were afflicted with periodic floods by the Colorado River. The Hoover Dam, the largest built to that date, converted the floods into an irrigation and electrical-power resource.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was built by damming and flooding a beautiful glacial valley in the Sierras. It provides water to San Francisco. The damming of Hetch Hetchy politicized the Sierra Club, which successfully agitated for the protection of Yosemite Valley (the brother valley of Hetch Hetchy) as a national park. Until that point, the major activity of the Sierra Club had been to construct trails and lodges in the Sierras.
The aqueduct moved water from the Colorado River to Los Angeles. It caused one of the great modern water wars. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power purchased the water rights to Mono Lake, and then used almost all the water without regard to conservation or wildlife. At this time, a similar situation is beginning to affect Crystal Lake, a major recreational center whose water rights were sold to a neighboring county.
An important development in this era was that a series of lawyers successfully overturned Spanish land grants and acquired the land for themselves and business allies under U. S. law. The most famous resulting development was the city of Anaheim. A number of other Spanish land-grants were successfully protected by the original Californios, notably Tejon Ranch, north of Los Angeles, and Irvine Ranch to the south.
This era also saw the rise of the studio system. MGM, Universal and Warner Brothers all acquired land in Hollywood, which was then a small town on the desert side of Los Angeles. The attraction was a mild climate, cheap land, and a wide selection of topography within a short drive by truck. Many westerns of this era were shot in the Owens Valley, east of the Sierras. Desert movies were shot in the Mojave, or Death Valley. Pirate movies were shot in Carmel. Winter movies were shot in the San Bernardino Mountains. Movies set in the Mediterranean or U. S. were shot on outdoor sets on studio land, often with simulated rain or snow.
During World War II, California's mild climate became a major weapon of war. Numerous air-training bases were established in Southern California, and most aircraft manufacturers expanded or established factories. Major naval shipyards were established or expanded in San Diego, Long Beach and San Francisco Bay. San Francisco was the home of the liberty ships.
After the war, hundreds of land-developers bought land, subdivided it, built on it, and got rich. In 1954, Disneyland opened in Anaheim. The population of California expanded dramatically, from 3 million, to nearly 20 million by 1970. This was the coming-of age of the baby boom.
In the late 60's the baby-boom generation got to draft age, and many opposed the war in Vietnam. There were numerous demonstrations and strikes, especially on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, across the bay from San Francisco. In 1968, race riots shut down Los Angeles. Some comentators predicted revolution. Then U. S. national leadership under President Richard Nixon firmly removed the U. S. from Vietnam's war. The radical political movements lost members and funding.
The high populations of this era caused tremendous problems with traffic, pollution, and crime. Solutions to these problems were hampered because U. S. law is theoretically opposed to combining or annexing local government by higher government. For this reason, regional solutions were not possible, and developed areas of California became, and remain, crazy-quilts of streets and laws.
In this period, high technology companies in Northern California began a spectacular growth that continued for the next thirty years. The major products included personal computers, video games, and network systems. The majority of these companies settled along a highway stretching from Santa Clara to San Jose, the so-called "Silicon Valley," named after the material used to produce the integrated circuits of the era.
The pollution problems became less acute with air and water because of draconian laws. However, pollution from storm water drains began to kill organisms near the inhabited seacoast, inspiring numerous conservation organzations.
Between 1960 and 1995, California's literacy rate among high school graduates dropped from 99% to 70%. This caused massive loss of confidence in the public school system, which increasingly was seen as a political patronage system run for the benefit of the teachers and teachers' unions. Citizens' groups attempted to end the patronage with referenda supporting voucher systems, and were defeated by media campaigns funded by the teachers' unions.
In the 1980s, power problems were again predicted, as several nuclear power plants were proposed to cope with projected summer power shortfalls. In California at the time, a large amount of power was provided by hydroelectricity, which is less available near the end of the summer, the dry season in which air-conditioning is used. An innovative deregulated power-market was invented to make alternative energy sources viable. The result in summer of 2000 was chaotic real-time manipulation of the electricity market by commercial power companies, an issue which is not yet resolved.
In general, the problems of population are problems of success, and most people in California lived well through this entire history, which tended remarkably to peace and prosperity.
According to the 2000 census, California lacks a clear ethnic majority. Hispanics lead, followed by whites, blacks, Asians and Native Americans. The group with the largest birth-rate are Spanish-speaking Catholics, who are expected to be the majority around 2040.
See the official web site at http://www.state.ca.us/