The County Voice

California County Diversity–By the Numbers

I met with a new editorial writer for the Sacramento Bee the other day–just a “get to know you” meeting over coffee. She’s from the Midwest, and wanted to know a little more about California and our 58 counties. The first thing I tried to tell her was that our counties are incredibly diverse in demographics, geography, economics, and more. But with someone new to this state, how do you begin to tell them just how diverse our counties really are?

How can you describe the still of a Sierra County sunrise and compare that to rush hour in LA? You can try to capture the stark difference between the pounding surf and rocky shores of Del Norte County and the warm water and sunny beaches of San Diego. But how do you explain the more subtle differences between the vineyards of Amador County and those of Napa or Sonoma? Grapes are grapes, right? 

How do you begin to describe for someone who has never experienced it the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley, the economic engine of San Francisco or the majesty of Yosemite that draws tourists from all over the world? How can you tell someone that if I blindfolded you and dropped you off outside of Alturas in Modoc County, you might guess you were in Wyoming or Idaho but probably not California?

I think California has to be experienced to be understood—and it’s a daunting task for a newcomer. It could take decades to truly experience the diversity of our 58 counties. But I saw something in the Los Angeles Times recently that I think I will share with the new writer for the Sacramento Bee. It was a story about the Los Angeles County budget.  It says that the new LA County budget totals just more than $27 billion, and will allow the county to add 2,300 new positions.  To put that in perspective, Alpine County has fewer than 1,200 total residents.

Los Angeles County would have to hire every living soul in Alpine County, twice, just to fill the new positions in its budget. Los Angeles’ total employee count is about 107,000—that’s more than the total population of 23 of the 58 counties, and more than the average population of counties across the country!

Knowing those numbers does not take the place of snow skiing at Heavenly in the morning and water skiing on Lake Tahoe in the afternoon. It cannot replace the experience of seeing Half Dome from Glacier Point. It cannot compete with a sip of Cabernet in Napa, Chardonnay in Sonoma, Zinfandel in Amador or Pinot in Santa Barbara.  A few interesting statistics can’t begin to provide a real “California Experience” for my new friend at the Sacramento Bee. But I am going to send them to her anyway. Maybe the numerical description of California’s county diversity will encourage her to experience as much of it as she can in person. 

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