Los Angeles, California
United States of America


Los Angeles, city in southern California, the most populous city in the state and the second most populous city and metropolitan region in the United States, after New York City. Located on the Pacific Ocean near the U.S. border with Mexico, the metropolis is noted for its pleasant climate and scenic setting. It is situated on a hilly coastal plain surrounded by beaches in the west and mountains and deserts in other directions. Referred to casually as “LA,” Los Angeles is one of the major industrial, commercial, and financial centers of the United States. It is known especially for its motion-picture, aeronautics, and aerospace industries. This international, multicultural city is also home to the largest Mexican, Korean, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan populations outside of those countries. Los Angeles has grown at a phenomenal rate since the late 19th century. Since the 1920s it has been the leading city of California as well as the most important metropolis west of the Mississippi River.

Decades of self-promotion and the global reach of the movies and television shows set in the city have broadcast a glorified image of Los Angeles around the world. The city, with its palm trees, beaches, and swimming pools, has been idealized as the ultimate “American Dream” for millions in the United States and abroad. As an immigrant metropolis on the Pacific Rim, it faces the problems and prospects of modern society on a larger scale than almost any other U.S. city. Therefore, Los Angeles is often looked to for important national and global trends.

Los Angeles has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. This gives the region a year-round growing season suitable for everything from cacti and citrus fruits to walnuts and corn. Temperatures vary widely from the desert regions to the high mountains, but July averages range from highs of 24° C (75° F) and lows of 17° C (63° F). January averages range from highs of 19° C (66° F) to lows of 9° C (48° F). The Pacific Ocean moderates the climate, providing a periodic layer of fog to the coastal areas. Rainfall is greatest in the mountain zones, averaging 760 to 1,020 mm (30 to 40 in) a year, and lowest along the coastal zones, which receive an average of 250 to 381 mm (10 to 15 in) annually. Interaction between these two climatic zones causes hot and dry winds (called Santa Ana winds) to blow downward from the mountains to the coast during the late summer and fall. Sometimes fierce and dangerous, these winds can reach 110 km/h (70 mph) and are often responsible for fanning wildfires.

Los Angeles traces its origins to a tiny, 18th-century colonial settlement at the extreme northern frontier of the colony of New Spain. The Spanish colonial governor Felipe de Neve originally named the settlement El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de Los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula (The Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of the River Porciúncula). However, both the town and the river soon became known simply as Los Angeles (The Angels).

Los Angeles and Its Metropolitan Area

The City of Los Angeles is the seat of Los Angeles County, which includes most of the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area. In turn, Los Angeles County is at the heart of the Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area (CMSA), a vast metropolitan region that stretches from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the San Gabriel Mountains in the north to the Mohave Desert in the east and to the San Diego Metropolitan Statistical Area in the south.

In many respects the Los Angeles region is highly centralized around its core, the City of Los Angeles. In other respects, Los Angeles is very dispersed and fragmented, often described as “100 suburbs in search of a city.” This observation is especially true of the residential and commercial districts. Although outlying cities once may have been considered suburbs of the City of Los Angeles, today the metropolitan area consists of literally hundreds of central business districts, each surrounded by suburb-like rings, which fade again into adjacent downtowns. Even within the City of Los Angeles proper there are several distinct central business districts marked by clusters of skyscrapers.

City of Los Angeles
The City of Los Angeles comprises 1,215 sq km (469 sq mi) and had a population of about 3.7 million people at the 2000 census. It is the largest municipality (in terms of size and population) among all the cities in Los Angeles County. It is irregular in shape because it has grown over the years through the annexation of surrounding territory and cities. The city proper is shaped like a lighted torch, its narrow handle extending north from the Port of Los Angeles to downtown Los Angeles, and its flames flickering irregularly to the north, west, and northwest. Several separate cities—such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Culver City—are partly or completely surrounded by the City of Los Angeles. The city is bisected by the Santa Monica Mountains, which run east to west.

Downtown Los Angeles boasts the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi (Library Tower) and the most visible skyline of the many surrounding business centers. Prior to the 1950s the most visible architectural landmark of the region was the distinctive pyramid-topped Los Angeles City Hall, which is now dwarfed by surrounding tall office towers. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument preserves a historic Spanish and Mexican neighborhood on the north side of downtown Los Angeles. The historic site includes the Avila Adobe, built in 1818 and the city’s oldest building. The Staples Center, a major sports arena, is located in western downtown Los Angeles.

Several predominantly Asian neighborhoods surround downtown Los Angeles: Koreatown to the west, Chinatown to the northeast, and Little Tokyo to the east. The city’s futuristic four-level freeway interchange (the first high-speed freeway interchange in the world) opened west of downtown in 1953, soon becoming the leading icon of Los Angeles. Dodger Stadium is located north of Chinatown. East of downtown is East Los Angeles, home to a large Hispanic population.

South of downtown, the city tapers sharply after the University of Southern California campus and Memorial Coliseum, the only site in the world to host two Olympic Games (1932 and 1984). Predominantly Latino residential neighborhoods located to the south make up an area known as South Central Los Angeles. One of these neighborhoods is Watts, home to the 30-m (100-ft) Watts Towers, decorated with shells, broken glass, and tile. Farther south is the very narrow Alameda Corridor, which links South Central Los Angeles with Harbor City, San Pedro, and the Port of Los Angeles, at the southern tip of the city. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is located west of Watts. The Theme Building at LAX was constructed in 1962 and immediately joined the four-level freeway interchange as another major icon of the city.

Hollywood, the traditional mecca of the motion-picture industry, is located northwest of downtown Los Angeles. In the hills north of Hollywood are the Hollywood Bowl and Griffith Park. The Hollywood Bowl, which opened in 1916, is a large natural amphitheater used for music, dance, and other performances. Also in the hills is another major icon of the Los Angeles region: a huge sign spelling out “HOLLYWOOD” in 15 m- (50 ft-) tall letters, originally constructed in 1923 as a real estate promotion.

Southwest of Hollywood are Westwood—home of the University of California, Los Angeles—and Century City, headquarters of many motion-picture and broadcasting companies. North of Westwood and Century City, and on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains, is the vast San Fernando Valley. The valley is dotted with commercial centers ringed by residential neighborhoods such as Studio City, Van Nuys, and Northridge.

Los Angeles County
Los Angeles County covers 10,518 sq km (4,061 sq mi) and had a population of about 9.5 million people at the 2000 census. Encompassing 88 cities, it is the most populous county in the United States (if it were a state, it would be the 9th largest). After the City of Los Angeles, the next largest city in the county is Long Beach (2000 population, 461,522), located east of the Port of Los Angeles. The city of Compton (93,493) is located north of Long Beach, on the east side of the Alameda Corridor. On the other side of the corridor are the cities of Torrance (137,946) and Inglewood (112,580).

Northwest of Inglewood and west of downtown Los Angeles are the wealthy and fashionable Santa Monica (84,084) and Beverly Hills (33,784). Both cities are enclaves: Santa Monica is surrounded by the City of Los Angeles to the north, east, and south (with the Pacific Ocean to the west); and Beverly Hills is completely encircled by the city.

West to east, the cities of Burbank (100,316), Glendale (194,973), and Pasadena (133,936) are located north of downtown Los Angeles. Further to the east is Pomona (149,473), near the eastern border of Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County also includes two of the offshore Channel Islands: Santa Catalina and San Clemente.

Greater Los Angeles
Greater Los Angeles, or the Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area (CMSA, a standard U.S. Census Bureau designation), includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties. In 2000 the Los Angeles CMSA was the second-largest CMSA in the United States (after the greater New York CMSA) in terms of population, with 16,373,645 people. Since the 1980s, when most of the livable space of central Los Angeles and Orange counties was occupied, the fastest-growing areas have been on the eastern extent of the metropolis, in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Besides those already listed, the principal cities of the Los Angeles CMSA are Santa Ana (337,977) and Anaheim (328,014), in Orange County (southeast of Los Angeles County); San Bernardino (185,401) and Riverside (255,166), in San Bernardino and Riverside counties (to the east) and Oxnard (170,358) and Ventura (officially San Buenaventura, 100,916), in Ventura County, which marks the western extent of the Los Angeles CMSA.


The population of the Los Angeles metropolitan region has grown spectacularly since the 1880s, when the city was barely more than a minor cow town. By 1920 the population of Los Angeles County (the most consistent area of comparison) had reached nearly 1 million. Another 1 million arrived during the 1920s alone, a period in which Los Angeles’s basic dispersed urban and residential patterns were established.

Continuing Growth
In the 1930s and 1940s, the region also received two waves of major migrations: that of farm families from the southern Great Plains migrating west to escape the Dust Bowl, and that of African Americans moving out of the American South. During World War II (1939-1945) the need for labor, especially in ship and aircraft production, boosted the population even more. The population of Los Angeles County jumped from 3 million to 4.7 million between 1940 and 1950.

The population explosion continued from the 1950s through the 1970s. The increase in this period can be attributed to the Cold War demand for the region’s defense industries, but also to U.S. popular culture. Attractive images of Los Angeles beaches, palm trees, convertible cars, and backyard swimming pools flooded U.S. movies, television programs, and advertising. Primarily thanks to Los Angeles, in 1970 California became the most populous state in the United States. Although the growth rate slowed in the 1980s and 1990s, the absolute population has continued to rise. In the year 2000, the population of the City of Los Angeles was 3,694,820, that of Los Angeles County was 9,519,338, and that of the Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County CMSA was 16,373,645.

Cultural Diversity
Beside its massive growth, the most distinctive change in Los Angeles’s population in the second half of the 20th century was its rapid transformation into one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the United States. In 1960 non-Hispanic whites made up 82 percent of the population of Los Angeles County. At the 2000 census, non-Hispanic whites made up only 32 percent of the county’s population, Asians 11.9 percent, blacks 9.8 percent, Native Americans 0.8 percent, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 0.3 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, accounted for 44.6 percent of the population. In 1990 Los Angeles became the first of the largest U.S. cities in which no ethnic or racial group formed a majority. According to the 2000 census, non-Hispanic whites made up 30.7 percent of the population of the City of Los Angeles, blacks 11.6 percent, Asians and Pacific Islanders 10.7 percent, Native Americans 1.1 percent, and people who reported belonging to more than one racial group 2.4 percent. Hispanics made up 45.1 percent of the city’s people.

The transformation of the city’s ethnic character is attributable primarily to 1965 reforms in U.S. immigration policy, officially ending bias in favor of Northern European immigrants and opening the doors to massive immigration from Latin America and Asia. Los Angeles, with its historic connections to and proximity with Mexico, as well as its prominent position on the Pacific Rim, became the nation's leading port of entry for immigrants. In the early 21st century, more than 20 languages were spoken in the public schools, the principal languages being English and Spanish. Literally hundreds of religions and denominations are practiced in Los Angeles, especially Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism.

After 1965, the Hispanic (often called Latino in California) population grew rapidly. The Mexican community is particularly significant, making up 79 percent of the region’s Hispanic population. More Mexicans live in Los Angeles than in any city except Mexico City. The region has also attracted large numbers of immigrants from Central America—people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua form the largest Hispanic communities after those of Mexican origin.

Asian peoples began migrating to the region in large numbers during the Gold Rush of 1849. Chinese were the most numerous Asian group until the early 20th century, when large numbers of Japanese immigrants temporarily supplanted them. A community of Korean political exiles settled in Los Angeles during the years of the Japanese occupation of Korea (1905-1945) and became the nucleus of a much larger Korean American community after 1965. By 1990 Los Angeles was home to the largest Korean community outside of Korea itself. Filipinos have immigrated to Los Angeles primarily in search of economic opportunity. Vietnamese have come to the region principally as refugees since the end of the Vietnam War (1959-1975) and the start of new conflicts in Southeast Asia in the 1970s. In 2000 the largest Asian groups in Los Angeles County were Chinese (29.0 percent), Filipinos (22.9 percent) Koreans (16.4 percent), Japanese (9.8 percent), and Vietnamese (6.9 percent).

Los Angeles, with more than 600,000 Jews, is home to the second-largest Jewish community in the United States after greater New York. Jews from Eastern and Northern Europe first settled in the area in the 19th century, and Jewish immigration increased dramatically during Germany’s Nazi dictatorship from 1933 to 1945. After World War II large groups of Jews from the Middle East also made their home in Los Angeles. Prominent among these later Jewish immigrants are refugees from the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran, who usually call themselves Persians.

Other large southwest Asian and Middle Eastern communities include Armenians, Arabs, Iranians, and Israelis. These groups have grown dramatically since 1970 primarily because of conflict in their home regions, but also because of the search for educational and economic opportunities.

Education and Culture

Los Angeles, despite being a relatively new metropolis, boasts a remarkable array of world-renowned educational and cultural institutions. It can also easily claim to be the birthplace and capital city of the global popular culture industry, led by Hollywood movies. While many would dispute calling the entertainment industry "culture," the industry’s enormous concentration of talent has drawn some of the world's leading creative geniuses, including German playwright Bertolt Brecht, German author Thomas Mann, Anglo-American writer Christopher Isherwood, and American author William Faulkner.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), founded in 1919, is Los Angeles’s leading public university, and the largest campus in California. UCLA’s faculty includes many Nobel Prize winners and world-renowned scholars in many fields. Besides UCLA, three other University of California (UC) campuses serve the Los Angeles region: UC Irvine (1965), UC Riverside (1954), and UC Santa Barbara (1909). There are also five campuses of the California State University (CSU) system: California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (1938), CSU Dominguez Hills (1960), CSU Fullerton (1957), CSU Long Beach (1949), CSU Los Angeles (1948), CSU Northridge (1958), and CSU San Bernardino (1965). In addition, there are numerous community colleges. Together, the Los Angeles region’s public universities and colleges enroll hundreds of thousands of students per year.

The city is also home to several major private colleges and universities. The University of Southern California (USC), founded in 1879, is the oldest private university in California, with two campuses near the heart of downtown Los Angeles. USC is known for its world-renowned School of Cinema-Television, strong science, engineering, and social science departments, and winning athletic teams. It is also the largest private employer in the city. The California Institute of Technology (1891, also known as Caltech), in Pasadena, is one of the leading science and engineering universities in the world. Caltech operates the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The JPL is most widely known for its development of spacecraft and the management of several space probe programs. Pepperdine University (1937), a private institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ, occupies a spectacular campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu. The Claremont Colleges, located in the city of Claremont in the San Gabriel Valley east of downtown Los Angeles, is a group of six affiliated schools: Claremont Graduate School (1925), Claremont McKenna College (1946), the science and engineering-focused Harvey Mudd College (1955), the liberal arts-focused Pitzer College (1963), Pomona College (1887), and the all-women’s Scripps College (1926). Loyola Marymount University (1911) is the oldest and most prestigious Catholic university in southern California. Occidental College, founded in 1887, and Whittier College, founded in 1887, are other highly regarded private colleges in Los Angeles.

Museums and Libraries
The Los Angeles region has numerous major art museums. The J. Paul Getty Museum has two locations: The main museum, featuring collections of European paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts, is in the massive Getty Center west of Beverly Hills, while the ancient art collections are housed in a replica of a Roman villa in Malibu. The Getty Center is also home to the Getty Research Institute. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art in midtown Los Angeles houses the largest and most wide-ranging art collection in the region, with notable collections of American, European, and Asian art. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) has an important collection of works produced since 1940. It has two locations downtown and one in West Hollywood. The Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach has a significant collection of California art.

Three very important smaller museums in Los Angeles were founded by private collectors. The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena has a highly renowned collection of European art. The UCLA Hammer Museum houses some of the renowned collections of the global industrialist Armand Hammer and hosts major exhibits. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino house collections of 18th- and 19th-century British and French paintings and an important collection of books and manuscripts in the fields of British and American history and literature.

Los Angeles has many fine museums dedicated to ethnic and cultural themes. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument contains several museums preserving the earliest Spanish and Mexican heritage of the city. The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana contains collections of East Asian, African, and Native American materials, and the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History mounts major anthropological exhibits. The California African American Museum preserves and interprets the art, history, and culture of African Americans with an emphasis on California and the Western United States. Other cultural museums include the Japanese American National Museum, the Korean American Museum, the Latino Museum of History, Art, and Culture, the Pacific Asia Museum, and the Southwest Museum, a museum of Native American artifacts. The Los Angeles Jewish community founded two major institutions dedicated to intercultural education: the Skirball Cultural Center near the Getty Center and the Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is also home to many institutions dedicated to various industries, sciences, and human endeavors. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences maintains a film archive and a library of film-related publications, as does the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Science Center include many interactive exhibits. The Griffith Observatory houses a planetarium and a hall of science, and mounts exhibitions as well. The Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries displays the skeletons of animals found in the neighboring Rancho La Brea Tar Pits, where Ice Age animals were trapped in asphalt deposits. Other museums on specific themes include the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, the Museum of Flying, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the Museum of Television and Radio, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and the UC Riverside California Museum of Photography.

The Los Angeles Public Library system consists of a large central library and dozens of branch libraries. The city’s many university and other institutional libraries house millions of books and rare and archival materials as well.

Performing Arts and Annual Events
The Music Center of Los Angeles County, located in downtown Los Angeles, houses the city’s major performing arts venues: the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home to the Los Angeles Opera and the Los Angeles Philharmonic; and two theaters, the Ahmanson Theater and the Mark Taper Forum. Major venues outside the City of Los Angeles include the Pasadena Playhouse, the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, and the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium, which stage everything from seasonal repertory theater to international ballet performances.

Several annual festivals have become strong regional traditions in this young metropolis. The best known worldwide is the Rose Parade, held in Pasadena on New Year’s Day since the 1890s, featuring elaborate floats made from live roses and other flowers. The large Mexican American population celebrates Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May), which commemorates the expulsion of the French from Mexico in 1862.


The Los Angeles region boasts some of the finest and most spectacular natural recreation areas in the world. The Pacific Ocean beaches—all open to the public—stretch for more than 100 km (60 mi) and are visited by tens of millions of people every year. The Santa Monica, San Bernardino, and San Gabriel mountains have hundreds of miles of hiking trails and numerous campgrounds, recreational lakes, and ski resorts—all within 100 km (60 mi) of downtown Los Angeles. The Angeles National Forest covers more than 2,640 sq km (1,020 sq mi) of the San Gabriel Mountains north of the city and contains Mount San Antonio (also known as Old Baldy), the tallest mountain (3,068 m/10,064 ft) in the region. The Mohave Desert, most of which is still wilderness, encircles the region to the north and east. Santa Catalina Island, lying 30 km (20 mi) off the coast, contains a popular resort town named Avalon.

Griffith Park, covering 1,700 hectares (4,100 acres), lies at the heart of Los Angeles. Besides many hiking and equestrian trails, it contains the Los Angeles Zoo and the Griffith Observatory. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach features large-scale marine habitats. Exposition Park, south of downtown Los Angeles, was created in the late 19th century and contains a large botanical garden and several museums.

Anaheim's Disneyland, which opened in 1955, is probably the most famous amusement park in the world. Many other amusement parks now compete with Disneyland, such as Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. Major-league sports venues include Dodger Stadium (opened 1962), located north of downtown Los Angeles, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team; and Staples Center (1999), located downtown, home of the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Sparks basketball teams, as well as the Los Angeles Kings ice hockey team.

The Los Angeles Coliseum, which hosted the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympic Games, is the home stadium of the USC Trojans college football team. It is located in Exposition Park. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena is the home of USC’s rival football team, the UCLA Bruins. The Rose Bowl is also the home of the Los Angeles Galaxy major-league soccer team.


Los Angeles is a major trade, manufacturing, and distribution center for the United States, the Pacific Rim, and the world. Its leading economic sectors include shipping, manufacturing, communications, finance, and fashion. Its port is among the busiest in the United States, handling $113.9 billion in cargo value during 2001. Los Angeles is also a center for advanced industries, notably high-technology and information-related concerns. It is a leading producer of aircraft, aerospace, and military equipment, with several large firms engaged as U.S. government defense contractors. It is also the world capital of the motion picture, television, radio, and recording industries.

Los Angeles manufacturing, once remarkable for the production of automobiles and rubber in large assembly-line factories, has shifted to smaller enterprises with a greater emphasis on light manufacturing, refinishing, and recycling. Leading products include garments, food products, furniture, electronics, and pharmaceuticals. Sitting atop a series of oil fields, the metropolis is also a major producer and refiner of petroleum products.

In 1997, 80 percent of the metropolitan region’s labor force worked in service-related industries (wholesale and retail trade, transportation, finance, insurance, real estate, and personal or professional services) and 20 percent were engaged in the production of goods (construction and manufacturing). Within the service sector, 39.3 percent were employed in personal and professional services; 29.2 percent in trade; 18.1 percent in federal, state, or local government; and 7.1 percent in finance, insurance, and real estate.

Entertainment Industry
The motion-picture, television, radio, and recording industries have been greatly transformed in recent decades through corporate mergers and the decline of the studio system, in which studios controlled every stage of the moviemaking process, from screenwriting to production to distribution to exhibition. From the 1930s through the 1950s motion pictures were dominated by seven studios, all headquartered in Los Angeles: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO), 20th Century-Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia, and Universal. Over the years, antitrust actions forced studios to split off their theater chains, and the industry became more and more decentralized. Production is now conducted by thousands of small independent enterprises, which work on a film-by-film contract basis, with the major studio corporations acting as producers. Meanwhile, the studios themselves have been absorbed into giant entertainment conglomerates such as Sony Corporation, AOL Time Warner Inc., The Walt Disney Company, and Viacom, Inc. All the entertainment conglomerates are now competing for customer share of the Internet market as well.

A distinctive feature of the Los Angeles region is its organization around the principal freeway corridors. The central east-west corridor is the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10), which carries hundreds of thousands of vehicles every day through a string of urban commercial centers from Santa Monica on the Pacific Ocean to Palm Springs in the Mohave Desert. Three freeways link the region's central districts in the northwest-southeast direction, paralleling the Pacific Ocean: the San Diego Freeway (I-405), the Harbor-Pasadena Freeway (I-110), and the Golden State Freeway (I-5). The major freeway interchanges each handle hundreds of thousands of vehicles every day, and the entire regional system carries millions of vehicles each day.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) runs the region’s mass transit system, consisting of buses and light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail lines. The Metro Rail system is a mostly above-ground light rail network serving the core areas with trains and subways. However, the majority of the mass transit riders use the MTA’s vast bus network.


There are three main categories of local government in the Los Angeles metropolitan region: city, county, and regional authorities. Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties are the largest units in terms of population, territory, and budgets. Within these 5 counties are 187 separate municipalities.

The City of Los Angeles is run by a mayor and a 15-member city council. Each of the council members represents a distinct district, and both the mayor and the council members are popularly elected to four-year terms. The City of Los Angeles operates the Los Angeles Police Department, Department of Public Works, and other agencies. It also operates several large and powerful proprietary departments, which are self-supporting and own extensive land and resource rights. These are the Department of Water and Power, which holds a near-monopoly on the region’s water supply; Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Los Angeles International (LAX), Ontario, Van Nuys and Palmdale airports; and the Port of Los Angeles, which is one of the busiest ports in the world.

Each of the counties is governed by small elected boards of supervisors. Los Angeles County, the most populous in the United States, is governed by five supervisors who serve four-year terms. Each supervisor represents an area in which about 2 million people live. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department provides basic police services for the more than 2 million people who live in unincorporated county areas or in cities that use the Sheriff’s Department rather than maintain their own police departments. The Sheriff’s Department also operates one of the largest jail systems in the world.

Los Angeles County operates Marina del Rey, the world’s largest small craft harbor. It also manages the region’s miles of beaches, which are used by tens of millions of people every year. In addition, Los Angeles County operates a massive public health system, with several major hospitals and dozens of community health care centers.

Several powerful regional or intergovernmental authorities operate across the counties and cities: the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). The SCAG includes the governments of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties, plus that of Imperial County (located far to the southeast of the Los Angeles metropolitan area), and of 181 cities within these counties. It seeks to coordinate city and regional planning and transportation systems, and provides the public with information about these two main areas of concern. Its members are appointed by the member governments.

Contemporary Issues

By the 1980s the expanding metropolis of Los Angeles had developed an array of serious social problems, many affecting youth: poor schooling, gangs, drugs, and violence. These problems reached notorious proportions in the early 1990s, when gang membership was estimated at 30,000. Youth gangs are concentrated among poor, working-class, and minority neighborhoods, primarily in the core of the metropolis. This area includes the South Central portion of the City of Los Angeles, and also the cities of Compton and Inglewood. Although youth gangs have been common characteristics of such neighborhoods in U.S. cities for more than a century, two recent developments have made them particularly dangerous: the ready availability of firearms and the involvement of these gangs in the international narcotics trade. Gangs fight for turf, small territories in which they retail drugs imported by large organized crime cartels operating from Colombia and Mexico. Local and federal authorities have had little success in suppressing this aspect of the gang problem.

A major contributing problem has been the failure of the public high school system. Intolerable levels of overcrowding in the central city schools, crumbling school buildings without working bathrooms, and poor teacher performance produce high dropout rates and contribute to the gang and drug problems. The Los Angeles Unified School District has been targeted for major reforms. In 2000 the district was divided into 11 subdistricts in the hopes of reducing bureaucracy and responding more quickly to students’ needs.

Control of pollution is one area in which Los Angeles has achieved moderate improvement. The city’s notorious smog—produced mainly by exhaust emissions from millions of trucks, diesel buses, and automobiles, and trapped by the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains—is still among the worst in the United States. It is linked to a wide range of health problems, most noticeably to an alarming increase in asthma among children. It reached its worst levels in the 1970s, but strict vehicle emission standards imposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency have had a marked effect. Federal and state officials are working to impose new measures, such as conversion of buses from diesel to natural gas and lower emission levels from automobile manufacturers.

Another major environmental problem has been the pollution of the Santa Monica Bay. Millions of gallons of untreated runoff from streets and lawns flow into the bay through storm sewers, especially during the winter rainy seasons. Dangerous levels of bacteria are regularly found at many of the beaches. City planners have attempted to have storm drain runoff diverted into treatment plants.

Los Angeles continues to struggle to meet its mass transportation needs. In the late 1990s the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) began construction on an ambitious subway and surface light rail system. However, construction costs skyrocketed and, after discovering rampant mismanagement, federal authorities temporarily shut down the project and imposed greater oversight. Citizen interest groups forced the MTA to redirect its funds to the much more widely used bus system.

The unwieldy size of the City of Los Angeles and the seeming failure of its educational and transportation efforts have fueled movements in some communities to break away and form smaller municipalities. Such movements are particularly strong in the San Fernando Valley and San Pedro areas. In response, in 2000 the city charter was revised in an effort to give greater voice to local neighborhoods.


The area now called Los Angeles was settled in about 9,000 bc by Native American people related to the Shoshone. By the time of their first contact with Europeans in ad 1542, these people were divided into three principal groups: the Tataviam, the Chumash, and the Tongva. The Tataviam, whose territory lay north of the San Fernando Valley, numbered perhaps 1,000. The Chumash, with a population of greater than 5,000, lived along the coastal areas in settlements centered in present-day Santa Barbara, west of Los Angeles. The Tongva people had the largest population—perhaps 10,000—and lived along the Los Angeles River. They called their village—the future site of downtown Los Angeles—Yang-Na. These Native Americans lived on seasonal hunting, gathering the plentiful acorns of the evergreen California live oak tree, and fishing the rich coastal waters. Traveling in canoes and on foot, they traded with other indigenous peoples far to the north along the coast and far inland.

After 1519 news traveled along these long-distance trade routes of a strange new people conquering Mexico: tall, light-skinned men who wore beards and rode horses. So when the first Spanish explorers landed in 1542 on the beaches of Los Angeles under the command of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the Tongva and Chumash were not surprised. Cabrillo, searching the area for deepwater harbors and potential riches to plunder, stayed only briefly, and died on the nearby Channel Islands after being wounded in a battle with the Chumash. After this early encounter, there was little further European interest in the region for 200 years.

Los Angeles Photo Gallery