Counties play a dual role in California’s system of government. California is divided into 58 counties.
- Countywide Services. Counties provide a variety of important county-wide welfare and social services that serve all residents within a county. Those include services relating to health and welfare, as well as the courts and criminal justice system. In these respects, counties are part of a statewide system that delivers certain kinds of programs and services to Californians.Counties’ district attorneys work with county sheriffs and city police departments to prosecute crimes.
- Municipal Services and Regulations. For those areas that are not within a city (often referred to as the “unincorporated areas” of a county), counties provide law enforcement services through the sheriff’s office. For these areas, counties may also provide such services as fire protection, animal control, parks, recreation, public works, planning and land use, water, waste water, solid waste, and library—services that are similar to those cities provide within their boundaries (known as the incorporated areas). Sometimes counties and cities provide these services collaboratively. Sometimes these services may be provided by a private company or by a special district.
Counties also have regulatory authority within the unincorporated areas (such as land use planning authority and building code enforcement). This includes the power to adopt regulations to promote the public good within those areas.
Counties and county officials join together for collective action and learning in service to their residents through a number of organizations, including the California State Association of Counties.