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LA County 101: The Basics Cont.


Everywhere I go, people ask me “What do counties actually run?” and “What do County Supervisors actually supervise?” I decided to write a yearlong series of essays to answer the questions.

It seems strange that although the county level of government (overseen by five Supervisors who comprise both the executive and legislative branches) implements virtually every single state and federal program, as well as county initiatives (healthcare, including the implementation of the new Affordable Care Act, public health, mental health, foster kids, child support, social services, juvenile incarceration, jails, libraries, the courts, child care, District Attorney, Public Defender, probation, coroner’s office, some aspects of education, transportation, environmental protection, housing, conservation, animal care and control, the Music Center, Disney Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, museums, agriculture [yes, really]), fire protection, beach maintenance and a host of others–it is also the least known level of government.

So here’s essay number two, LA County 101, Part 2: The Basics Continued, a continuation of interesting factoids about a county larger than most states, with a population of almost 10 million people, speaking 140 languages and dialects, and with a budget of almost 25 billion dollars, written in the hopes that folks interested in politics and public policy will enjoy knowing more about it.

Ups and Downs, Geography-Wise

LA County encompasses about 4,084 square miles, which is roughly the size of Jamaica with altitudes that range from nine feet below sea level (in Wilmington) to 10,080 feet above sea level (at Mount San Antonio). Don’t recognize the name Mount San Antonio? That’s because it’s more usually known as Mount Baldy and is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains.

There are 81 miles of beaches—about 9% of the total 840-mile coastline of California—25 freeways, 3218 miles of major roads and streets to maintain in unincorporated areas (those not included in any cities), 1014 miles of roads in cities who contract with the county to maintain their roads and 88 different cities. County jurisdiction also includes the islands of San Clemente and Santa Catalina.

The county’s population of almost 10 million people is about 30% of the population of the entire state of California. If the county were a state, it would be the eighth largest state in the United States and its economy in 2008 was the 19th largest in the world.

Oh Yeah? Just How Many People Get What?

The numbers of people served, simply in terms of various forms of record keeping and registration, is staggering. The county accepts over 100,000 names for business filings and registrations, maintains more than 100 million deeds, mortgages, liens and other real estate records, and answers more than 10 million questions and circulates more than 16 million books annually at county libraries.

It issues more than 60,000 marriage licenses and performs about 9,000 marriage ceremonies a year (and, as I write, the possibility of a whole lot more, this year!). The county provides grants to 86 theatres, 12 museums, 29 orchestras, 5 festivals and 30 dance companies. 21 million people come to county parks each year, and 70 million visit county beaches.

In addition, every year, LA County issues more than 500,000 copies of birth certificates, 60,000 copies of death certificates and 115,000 copies of marriage certificates. They also issue an average of 52,000 building permits annually and provide construction plan checks for more than 2,000 building projects regarding safe construction and proper occupancy.

The county provides services to more than a million and a half people at community and senior centers, 300,000 seniors at three county senior citizen centers, alone. Each year, the county investigates more than 15,000 senior and dependent adult abuse cases. Almost a million MediCal recipients get coverage through the county and that number is poised to grow in the coming years. More about that in a coming essay on the responsibilities of the county in providing healthcare services and oversight.

As you can see, Supervisors oversee hundreds of services and make decisions that impact millions of lives. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Los Angeles County — more to come!