Kern County, California
|County of Kern|
Location in the state of California
|Named for||Kern River and Edward Kern|
|County seat (and largest city)||Bakersfield|
|• Total||8,163 sq mi (21,140 km2)|
|• Land||8,132 sq mi (21,060 km2)|
|• Water||31 sq mi (80 km2)|
|Highest elevation||8,755 ft (2,669 m)|
|Lowest elevation||206 ft (63 m)|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||100/sq mi (40/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC−8 (Pacific Time Zone)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−7 (Pacific Daylight Time)|
|Area code||661, 760|
|GNIS feature ID||2054176|
Kern County comprises the Bakersfield, California, Metropolitan statistical area. The county spans the southern end of the Central Valley. Covering 8,161.42 square miles (21,138.0 km2), it ranges west to the southern slope of the Coast Ranges, and east beyond the southern slope of the eastern Sierra Nevada into the Mojave Desert, at the city of Ridgecrest. Its northernmost city is Delano, and its southern reach extends just beyond Lebec to Grapevine, and the northern extremity of the parallel Antelope Valley.
The county's economy is heavily linked to agriculture and to petroleum extraction. There is also a strong aviation, space, and military presence, such as Edwards Air Force Base, the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, and the Mojave Air and Space Port.
The Battle of San Emigdio took place in Kern County in March 1824. The Chumash Indians of Mission Santa Barbara rebelled against the Mexican government and its taking over mission property and ejecting the natives. The battle occurred in the canyon where San Emigdio Creek flows down San Emigdio Mountain and the Blue Ridge, south of Bakersfield near today's Highway 166. Mexican forces from Monterey were commanded by Carlos Carrillo and the conflict was a low-casualty encounter, with only four Indians being killed and no Mexicans. The surviving Indians were pacified and brought back to Santa Barbara in June 1824 after a pursuit and negotiation in which many were allowed to keep their arms for the return march over the mountains.
In the beginning, what was to become Kern County was dominated by mining in the mountains and in the desert. In 1855 the California legislature attempted to form a county in the area by giving the southeastern territory of Tulare County on the west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Buena Vista County. However, it was never officially organized prior to 1859, when the enabling legislation expired. The south of Tulare County was later organized as Kern County in 1866, with additions from Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. Its first county seat was the mining town of Havilah, in the mountains east of Bakersfield and north of Tehachapi.
Settlers considered the flat land of the valley inhospitable and impassable at the time due to swamps, lakes, tule reeds and diseases such as malaria. This changed when residents started draining land for farming and constructing canals, most dug by hired Chinese laborers. Within 10 years the valley surpassed the mining areas as the economic power of the county, and as a result the county seat was moved from Havilah to Bakersfield in 1874.
The county derives its name from the Kern River, which was named for Edward Kern, cartographer for General John C. Frémont's 1845 expedition, which crossed Walker Pass. The Kern River was originally named Rio Bravo de San Felipe by Father Francisco Garcés when he explored the area in 1776.
Throughout recorded history, severe earthquakes have struck Kern County, including the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake.
On July 21, 1952, an earthquake occurred with the epicenter about 23 miles (37 km) south of Bakersfield. It measured 7.3 on the moment magnitude scale and killed 12 people. In addition to the deaths, it was responsible for hundreds of injuries and more than $60 million in property damage. The main shock was felt over much of California and as far away as Phoenix, Arizona and Reno, Nevada. The earthquake occurred on the White Wolf Fault and was the strongest to occur in California since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Tehachapi suffered the greatest damage and loss of life from the earthquake, though its effects were widely felt throughout central and southern California. The event had a significant aftershock sequence that persisted into July and August with the strongest coming on August 22, an M5.8 event with a maximum perceived intensity of VIII (Severe) and resulted in two additional deaths and an additional $10 million in property damage. Repercussions of the sequence of earthquakes were still being felt in the heavily damaged downtown area of Bakersfield well into the 1990s as city leaders attempted to improve safety of the surviving non-reinforced masonry buildings.
Following the event, a field survey was conducted along the fault zone with the goal of estimating the peak ground acceleration of the shock based on visually evaluating rock formations and other indicators. Ground disturbances that were created by the earthquakes were also surveyed, both in the valley and in the foothills, with both vertical and horizontal displacements present in the epicenter area. The motion records that were acquired from the event were significant, and a reconnaissance report was recognized for its coverage of the event, and its setting a standard for similar engineering or scientific papers.
Between 1983 and 1986, several ritual sex ring child abuse cases occurred in Kern County, resulting in numerous long prison sentences, all of which were overturned—some of them decades later, because the prosecutors had coerced false testimonies from the purported child victims. The details of these false accusations are covered extensively in the 2008 documentary Witch Hunt, narrated by Sean Penn.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 8,163 square miles (21,140 km2), of which 8,132 square miles (21,060 km2) is land and 31 square miles (80 km2) (0.4%) is water. It is the third-largest county by area in California. Its area is nearly the size of the state of New Hampshire; it extends:
- East beyond the southern slope of the Sierra Nevada range into the Mojave Desert, and includes parts of the Indian Wells Valley and Antelope Valley.
- West from the Sierra across the floor of the San Joaquin Valley to the eastern edge of the Temblor Range, part of the Coast Ranges.
- South over the ridge of the Tehachapi Mountains.
Kern County suffers from severe air pollution. Particulates cause poor visibility, especially in the winter. Western Kern County lies in the San Joaquin Valley and the topography traps pollutants. Although the topography is not as unfavorable in eastern Kern County, eastern Kern County is a non-attainment area for particulates. Air pollution caused by particulates is "in the unhealthy range an average of 40 days a year, according to the American Lung Association's (ALA) 2018 State of the Air Report.
Chaparral comprises a considerable portion of the natural area within Kern County; the species diversity within these chaparral habitats, however, is considerably less than in many other regions of California. Whitethorn is a prominent example of chaparral species on the rocky slopes of the Sierra Nevada as well as the Inner Coastal Ranges. California Buckeye is a notable tree found in both chaparral and forests and whose southern range terminates in Kern County.
National protected areas
According to the 2010 United States Census, Kern County's population was 839,631. It was the eleventh-largest county by population in California. The center of population of California is located in Kern County, in the town of Buttonwillow .
|Population, race, and income|
|Black or African American||47,008||5.7%|
|American Indian or Alaska Native||9,132||1.1%|
|Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander||914||0.1%|
|Some other race||136,534||16.5%|
|Two or more races||30,067||3.6%|
|Hispanic or Latino (of any race)||402,444||48.5%|
|Per capita income||$20,167|
|Median household income||$48,021|
|Median family income||$52,041|
Places by population, race, and income
|Places by population and race|
|Asian||Black or African
|Hispanic or Latino|
(of any race)
|Bear Valley Springs||CDP||5,273||90.5%||7.1%||1.8%||0.4%||0.1%||8.9%|
|China Lake Acres||CDP||1,423||82.4%||13.3%||0.0%||0.0%||4.4%||10.3%|
|Lake of the Woods||CDP||814||78.9%||10.3%||5.8%||0.0%||5.0%||12.5%|
|Pine Mountain Club||CDP||1,541||95.7%||2.4%||0.0%||1.0%||0.9%||15.0%|
|Squirrel Mountain Valley||CDP||635||100.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||6.0%|
|Places by population and income|
|Place||Type||Population||Per capita income||Median household income||Median family income|
|Bear Valley Springs||CDP||5,273||$39,533||$78,635||$103,561|
|China Lake Acres||CDP||1,423||$27,002||$38,643||$61,889|
|Lake of the Woods||CDP||814||$23,726||$53,750||$82,616|
|Pine Mountain Club||CDP||1,541||$31,530||$44,924||$52,279|
|Squirrel Mountain Valley||CDP||635||$39,920||$71,964||$104,973|
|U.S. Decennial Census|
The 2010 United States Census reported that Kern County had a population of 839,631. The racial makeup of Kern County was 499,766 (59.5%) White, 48,921 (5.8%) African American, 12,676 (1.5%) Native American, 34,846 (4.2%) Asian, 1,252 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 204,314 (24.3%) from other races, and 37,856 (4.5%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 413,033 persons (49.2%); 43.4% of Kern County residents are of Mexican heritage, 1.0% Salvadoran, 0.5% Colombian, and 0.4% Guatemalan.
According to the 2000 United States Census of 2000, there were 661,645 people, 208,652 households, and 156,489 families residing in the county. The population density was 81 people per square mile (31/km²). There were 231,564 housing units at an average density of 28 per square mile (11/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 61.6% White, 6.0% Black or African American, 3.4% Asian, 1.5% Native American, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 23.2% from other races, and 4.1% from two or more races. 38.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 8.4% were of German, 7.2% American and 5.7% Irish ancestry, according to the census. 66.8% spoke English, 29.1% Spanish and 1.0% Tagalog as their first language.
There were 208,652 households out of which 42.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.6% were married couples living together, 14.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.0% were non-families. 20.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.03 and the average family size was 3.50.
In the county, the age distribution of the population shows 31.9% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 29.8% from 25 to 44, 18.7% from 45 to 64, and 9.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 105.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 105.3 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $35,446, and the median income for a family was $39,403. Males had a median income of $38,097 versus $25,876 for females. The per capita income for the county was $15,760. About 16.8% of families and 20.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.8% of those under age 18 and 10.5% of those age 65 or over.
Racial and ethnic identity
- White Non-Hispanic (49.5%)
- Hispanic (38.4%)
- Other race (23.2%)
- Black (6.0%)
- Two or more races (4.1%)
- American Indian (2.6%) - one of the highest in California.
(Total can be greater than 100% because Hispanics may be counted in any race.)
Arts and culture
Metropolitan statistical area
The United States Office of Management and Budget has designated Kern County as the Bakersfield, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area. The United States Census Bureau ranked the Bakersfield, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area as the 63rd most populous metropolitan statistical area and the 68th most populous primary statistical area of the United States as of July 1, 2012.
Government, policing, and politics
Kern County is a California Constitution defined general law county and is governed by an elected Board of Supervisors. The Board consists of five members, elected by districts, who serve four-year staggered terms. The county government provides countywide services such as elections and voter registration, some law enforcement, jails, vital records, property records, tax collection, public health, and social services. In addition, the County serves as the local government for all unincorporated areas.
The Kern County Sheriff provides court protection, jail administration, and coroner services for the entire county of 800,000 in population. It provides patrol and detective services for the unincorporated areas of the county and by contract to certain municipalities. The main Sheriff's office and station is at Bakersfield. There are 15 sheriff substations for the widespread county.
Municipal police departments in the county are: Bakersfield, population 370,000; Ridgecrest, 30,000; Delano, 54,000; Wasco (sheriff contract city), 27,000; Shafter, 20,000; McFarland, 15,000; Arvin, 19,000; Tehachapi, 15,000; Maricopa (sheriff contract city), 1,500.
Politics and voter registration
|Population and registered voters|
|Registered voters[note 3]||332,711||40.1%|
|Peace and Freedom||926||0.3%|
|No party preference||62,482||18.8%|
Cities by population and voter registration
|Cities by population and voter registration|
|Democratic||Republican||D–R spread||Other||No party preference|
In the United States House of Representatives, Kern County is split between California's 21st congressional district, represented by Democrat TJ Cox, and California's 23rd congressional district, represented by Republican Kevin McCarthy.
In the State Assembly, Kern County is split between the following four Assembly districts:
- the 26th Assembly District, represented by Republican Devon Mathis
- the 32nd Assembly District, represented by Democrat Rudy Salas
- the 34th Assembly District, represented by Republican Vince Fong, and
- the 36th Assembly District, represented by Republican Tom Lackey.
- 1st District, Mick Gleason.
- 2nd District, Zack Scrivner.
- 3rd District, Mike Maggard.
- 4th District, David Couch.
- 5th District, Leticia Perez.
Crime and public safety
The Kern County Fire Department (KCFD) is an agency that provides fire protection and emergency medical services for the county of Kern, California, USA. Over 625 permanent employees and 100 extra help employees protect an area which spans over 8,000 square miles (21,000 km2). KCFD provides fire protection services for over 500,000 citizens living in the unincorporated areas of Kern County and the cities of Arvin, Delano, Maricopa, McFarland, Ridgecrest, Shafter, Taft, Tehachapi and Wasco. This agency is contracted to provide dispatch services for the California City Fire Department, Kern Ambulance based in Wasco, and Liberty Ambulance of Bakersfield. Over 546 uniformed firefighters are stationed in 46 fire stations throughout the county.
The Kern County Sheriff's Department is the agency responsible for law enforcement within the county of Kern. The department provides law enforcement within the county, maintains the jails used by both the county and municipal cities, and provides search and rescue. The department contains over 1,200 sworn deputies and civilian employees. Its jurisdiction contains all of the unincorporated areas of Kern County, approximately 8,000 square miles (21,000 km2). The department headquarters is located at 1350 Norris Road in Bakersfield. There are 15 additional substations located throughout the county. The metro patrol area is divided into four regions: north, south, east, and west.
In 2009, the district attorney claimed "the highest per capita prison commitment rate of any major California county." Among those convicted were many charged with crimes against children during a moral panic. Many of these have since been released. Kern County contains multiple state and federal prisons, including two private prisons. As a result, the courts have been known to sentence a higher than average number of defendants to long prison sentences to help the local economy. The county is among the most prolific with the death penalty. assigning death penalty sentences in 26 cases since 1976. In 2015 Kern County policemen from all departments killed more people per capita than any other American county. Because of the very harsh local criminal justice system, Kern County has been dubbed "the most punitive authoritarian jurisdiction on the west coast" and "Oklahoma of the west" by major news websites such as Vice News. In 2015, it was revealed that the Kern County Sheriff's office engaged in a longstanding program of attempted cash payoffs to women who had accused deputies of sexual assault. Also in 2015, a civil lawsuit filed by a survivor of a sexual assault committed by Kern County Sheriff's deputy Gabriel Lopez, was settled for $1 million.
Kern County also holds the distinction of having the most deaths per capita in the US by police shooting per an article published in The Guardian on December 1, 2015. In 2015 to the date of publication of the article, there have been 13 deaths by police shootings in a county of less than 875,000 population, or 0.016 per thousand persons. By comparison, during the same period of time in New York City, a population 10 times the size with a police force more than 20 times the size, there were 9 such deaths.
The following table includes the number of incidents reported and the rate per 1,000 persons for each type of offense.
|Population and crime rates|
|Motor vehicle theft||4,998||6.03|
Cities by population and crime rates
|Cities by population and crime rates|
|City||Population||Violent crimes||Violent crime rate
per 1,000 persons
|Property crimes||Property crime rate|
per 1,000 persons
The county has a large agricultural base and is a significant producer of oil, natural gas, hydro-electric power, solar power, and wind power. Kern is noted for minerals, including gold, borate, and kernite. The largest open pit mine in California, which mines borax, is at Boron. As of October 1, 2016, Kern County contains nearly 25% of California's in-state renewable energy production, including 1,785 MW of solar power and 3,310 MW of wind power. Kern County is home to the Tehachapi Energy Storage Project, which was commissioned in 2014.
Aerospace and military
Department of Defense facilities include Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station. As home to Edwards Air Force Base the Air Force's main flight test facility, Kern has been the site of many milestones, including the first supersonic flight and the first landing of the Space Shuttle. The base has brought prosperity to the railroad towns of Mojave and Rosamond. Kern County is also the home of the first inland spaceport in the United States, the Mojave Spaceport.
Major producer of almonds with production greater than 100 million pounds annually.
As of 2015[update], Kern is California's top oil-producing county, with 78% of the state's 56,653 active oil wells and 71% of oil production. The county produced 144.5 million barrels of oil in 2015, accounting for about 4% of overall U.S. oil production.
Discovery and development
Oil development began with the 1894 discovery of the Midway-Sunset Oil Field, now the third-largest in the United States, in the southwestern portion of Kern County near Maricopa. The 1899 discovery along the Kern River was a breakthrough in oil production. Oil was refined here even before the establishment of the county. The Buena Vista Petroleum Company was organized and incorporated in 1864. Soon thereafter a refinery was built that operated until April 1867 when work ceased because of high freight charges.
Other big oil fields in southwestern Kern County discovered early in the 20th century include the Buena Vista, the South Belridge and the Cymric fields. The latter is the fastest-growing field in California in terms of barrels produced per year. Later large fields include the Kern River Oil Field, the fifth-largest in the U.S., the adjacent Kern Front Oil Field, the Mount Poso Oil Field in the lower foothills of the Sierra north-northeast of Bakersfield and the Fruitvale Oil Field, which underlies much of the city of Bakersfield, along and north of the Kern River.
On July 22, 2009, Occidental Petroleum announced it had discovered the equivalent of 150 million to 250 million barrels of oil in Kern County, which the company called the largest oil discovery in California in 35 years. The find added about 10 percent to California's known reserves. Occidental's Ray Irani said it is likely that more oil would be found in the areas outside the initial six wells that tapped the discovery. Occidental has not revealed the exact location of the find, two-thirds of which is natural gas. BNET, an industry web publication, said the find would add to the company's 708 million barrels of proven reserves in California.
The county today contributes more than three-quarters of all the oil produced onshore in California. Some of the large oil fields in Kern County which are still active include:
- Buena Vista Oil Field
- Cymric Oil Field
- Edison Oil Field
- Elk Hills Oil Field
- Fruitvale Oil Field
- Kern Front Oil Field
- Kern River Oil Field
- Lost Hills Oil Field
- McKittrick Oil Field
- Midway-Sunset Oil Field
- Mountain View Oil Field
- Mount Poso Oil Field
- North Belridge Oil Field
- Round Mountain Oil Field
- South Belridge Oil Field
- Arvin Transit is the local municipal bus operator in and around Arvin.
- Delano Area Rapid Transit is the local municipal bus operator in Delano.
- Golden Empire Transit is the local bus operator in and near Bakersfield.
- Kern Regional Transit provides countywide intercity bus service.
- Taft Area Transit is the local municipal bus operator in and around Taft.
- Kern County is also served by Greyhound and Orange Belt Stages buses and Amtrak trains.
- California City Municipal Airport, California City. (FAA: L71)
- Delano Municipal Airport, Delano. (IATA: DLO)
- Inyokern Airport, Inyokern. (IATA: IYK)
- Kern Valley Airport, Kernville. (FAA: L05)
- Lost Hills Airport, Lost Hills. (FAA: L84)
- Meadows Field, Bakersfield, an international and general aviation airport. (IATA: BFL)
- Mojave Airport, Mojave. (IATA: MHV)
- Shafter Airport (Minter Field), Shafter. (IATA: MIT)
- Taft Airport, Taft. (FAA: L17)
- Tehachapi Municipal Airport, Tehachapi. (IATA: TSP)
- Wasco Airport, Wasco. (FAA: L19)
Outdoor recreational activities include horseback riding, water skiing (Lake Isabella, Lake Buena Vista, Lake Ming, and private ski ranches). Off-roading and other motorsports take place at Jawbone Canyon, California City, Randsburg, Willow Springs, Buttonwillow, Bakersfield Speedway, Famoso Raceway, and the half-mile Kern Raceway. Hunting, paintball, white-water rafting, kayaking (Kern River), snow skiing (Shirley Meadows and Mount Pinos), shooting ranges (5 Dogs Range), hiking, biking (trails, paths, and roads), camping and fishing are also part of the recreational culture.
- The Bakersfield Californian, Kern County
- Mountain Enterprise, southwest Kern mountains area
- Mojave Desert News, California City and east Kern desert area
- The Daily Independent, Ridgecrest, China Lake, and The Indian Wells Valley
- The Kern Valley Sun, Kern Valley area
- Kern River Courier, Kern Valley area
- Tehachapi News, Tehachapi
- Taft Midway Driller, Taft
- Taft Independent, Taft
- The Delano Record, Delano
- KBAK-TV (CBS), Kern County
- KBFX-TV (FOX), Kern County
- KERO-TV (ABC), Kern County
- KGET-TV (NBC/CW), Kern County
|Population reported at 2010 United States Census|
(of any race)
(of any race)
(of any race)
|Bear Valley Springs||5,172||4,776||74||46||57||3||89||127||399|
|China Lake Acres||1,876||1,601||35||29||16||7||84||104||265|
|Edwards Air Force Base||2,063||1,518||165||16||99||10||96||159||355|
|Lake of the Woods||917||820||3||18||11||0||34||31||123|
|Pine Mountain Club||2,315||2,079||29||25||45||0||58||79||231|
|Squirrel Mountain Valley||547||509||2||9||1||0||13||13||22|
(of any race)
|All others not CDPs (combined)||138,644||81,305||5,079||2,730||1,907||141||41,670||5,812||82,746|
- Bear Valley Springs
- Cherokee Strip
- China Lake Acres
- Derby Acres
- Dustin Acres
- Edmundson Acres
- Edwards AFB
- Ford City
- Frazier Park
- Fuller Acres
- Golden Hills
- Lake Isabella
- Lake of the Woods
- Lost Hills
- Mexican Colony
- Mountain Mesa
- North Edwards
- Pine Mountain Club
- Smith Corner
- South Taft
- Squirrel Mountain Valley
- Stallion Springs
- Taft Heights
- Valley Acres
- Wofford Heights
- Aerial Acres
- Alta Sierra
- Burton Mill
- Calders Corner
- Di Giorgio
- Fig Orchard
- Five Points
- Goler Heights
- Harts Place
- Indian Wells
- Kecks Corner
- Kern Lake
- Lackey Place
- Miracle Hot Springs
- Missouri Triangle
- North Belridge, California
- Oil Junction
- Old Garlock
- Old River
- Old West Ranch
- Pettit Place
- Pinon Pines Estates
- Pumpkin Center
- Rancho Seco
- Rio Bravo
- San Emidio
- Sand Canyon
- Shirley Meadows
- South Lake
- Spicer City
- Twin Lakes
- Twin Oaks
- Wheeler Ridge
- Wible Orchard
- Willow Springs
- Wonder Acres
† county seat
|Rank||City/Town/etc.||Municipal type||Population (2010 Census)|
|17||Bear Valley Springs||CDP||5,172|
|27||Pine Mountain Club||CDP||2,315|
|34||China Lake Acres||CDP||1,876|
|42||Lake of the Woods||CDP||917|
|45||Squirrel Mountain Valley||CDP||547|
In popular culture
- List of museums in the San Joaquin Valley
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Kern County, California
- Other = Some other race + Two or more races
- Native American = Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander + American Indian or Alaska Native
- Percentage of registered voters with respect to total population. Percentages of party members with respect to registered voters follow.
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- Data unavailable
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kern County, California.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Kern County.|
- Official website
- Keysville Massacre, April 19, 1863—original report from officer in charge
- A Visit to the Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed, Southern California—A field trip to a world-famous 16-to-15-million-year-old fossil locality a few miles northeast of Bakersfield; includes detailed text, with photographs of fossils and on-site images.
- Fossils at Red Rock Canyon State Park, California