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Kern County

Kern County, California
County of Kern

Country  United States of America
State  California
Incorporated 1866
County seat (and largest city) Bakersfield
 • Total 8,161.42 sq mi (21,138.0 km2)
 • Land 8,140.96 sq mi (21,085.0 km2)
 • Water 20.46 sq mi (53.0 km2)
Highest elevation[1] 8,755 ft (2,669 m)
Lowest elevation[1] 206 ft (63 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 839,631
 • Density 100/sq mi (40/km2)
Time zone Pacific Standard Time (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST) Pacific Daylight Time (UTC-7)

Kern County is a county spanning the southern end of the California 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. The population of Kern County was 839,631 in 2010, making it the eleventh most populous county in the state.[2] Its county seat is Bakersfield. The county's economy is heavily linked to agriculture and to petroleum extraction. There is also strong aviation, space, and military presence, such as Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station.


Spanish era

The area was claimed by the Spanish in 1769, and in 1772 Commander Don Pedro Fages became the first European to enter it, from the south by way of the Grapevine Canyon.

Kern County was the site of the Battle of San Emigdio, in March 1824, between the Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara Mission who rebelled against the Mexican government's taking over mission property and ejecting the natives. This battle with Mexican forces from Monterey under the command of Carlos Carrillo took place at the canyon where San Emigdio Creek flows down San Emigdio Mountain and the Blue Ridge south of Bakersfield near today's Highway 166. It was a low-casualty encounter, with only four Indians 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.[3]

American era

In the beginning, the area that became Kern County was dominated by mining in the mountains and in the desert. In 1855 an attempt to form a county in the area was made when the California legislature took the southeastern territory of Tulare County on the west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for Buena Vista County, but it was never officially organized prior to 1859, when the time of the enabling legislation ran out. 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 in the mining town of Havilah, in the mountains between Bakersfield and Tehachapi.

The flatlands were considered inhospitable and impassable at the time due to swamps, lakes, tule reeds and diseases such as malaria. This changed when settlers started draining lands for farming and constructing canals, most dug by hand by hired Chinese laborers. Within 10 years the valley surpassed the mining areas as the economic center of the county, and the county seat was moved as a result from Havilah to Bakersfield in 1874.

The discovery well of the Kern River Oil Field was dug by hand in 1899.[4] Soon the towns of Oil City, Oil Center and Oildale came into existence.[4]


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 Garces when he explored the area in 1776. Kern County was nearly named Buena Vista County for the large, and now drained, Buena Vista Lake between Bakersfield and Taft.


Severe earthquakes have struck Kern County within historical times, including the Fort Tejon earthquake of 1857 and the Lone Pine earthquake of 1872.

On July 21, 1952, an earthquake with the epicenter about 23 miles (37 km) south of Bakersfield, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale killed 12 people. In addition to the deaths, it was responsible for at least 18 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.[5]

Abuse trials

Between 1983 and 1986, several ritual sex ring child abuse cases allegedly occurred in Kern County, resulting in numerous long prison sentences, all of which were overturned—some of them decades later, because, it was said, the prosecutors had coerced false testimonies from the purported child victims.[6] The details of these false accusations are covered extensively in the 2008 documentary Witch Hunt, narrated by Sean Penn.[7]


Kern County Clerk Ann Barnett announced in mid-June 2008 that the county would stop performing all civil marriage ceremonies. County officials cited budget and staffing constraints. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Barnett made her decision after county lawyers told her she could not refuse to marry same-sex couples.[8]

Public Safety

Fire protection within the county is provided by the Kern County Fire Department. Law Enforcement within the county is provided by the Kern County Sheriff's Department.


The Kern County Fire Department (KCFD) is the agency that provides fire protection and emergency medical services for the county of Kern, California, USA. With over 625 permanent employees and 100 extra help employees protecting 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 Care Ambulance based in Lake Isabella. Over 546 uniformed firefighters are stationed in 46 fire stations throughout the county.

Sheriff's Office

Main article: Kern County Sheriff's Department

The Kern County Sheriff's Department is the agency responsible for law enforcement within the County of Kern, California, in the United States. The department provides: law enforcement within the county, maintain the jails used by both the county and municipal cities, and provides search and rescue. The department contains over 1,200 sworn officers and civilian employees. Its jurisdiction contains all of the unincorporated areas of Kern County, approximately 8,000 square miles. 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.

Law and government

Voter registration statistics

Cities by population and voter registration


Kern County vote
by party in presidential elections

The background color in the Year column indicates which party had a plurality vote, red for Republican and blue for Democratic.
Year GOP DEM Others
2008 57.9% 134,793 40.2% 93,457 1.8% 4,111
2004 66.5% 140,417 32.5% 68,603 1.0% 2,154
2000 60.7% 110,663 36.2% 66,003 3.1% 5,642
1996 53.8% 92,151 36.6% 62,658 9.7% 16,582
1992 45.1% 80,762 33.8% 60,510 21.2% 37,991
1988 61.5% 90,550 37.4% 55,083 1.1% 1,660
1984 65.0% 94,776 34.0% 49,567 1.0% 1,401
1980 59.7% 72,842 33.7% 41,097 6.7% 8,182
1976 52.3% 58,023 45.6% 50,567 2.1% 2,371
1972 60.1% 71,686 35.2% 41,937 4.6% 5,570
1968 46.6% 53,990 42.6% 49,284 10.8% 12,558
1964 41.2% 45,014 58.7% 64,174 0.1% 120
1960 50.4% 52,800 49.1% 51,440 0.4% 465
1956 51.3% 46,220 48.3% 43,533 0.4% 322
1952 55.1% 46,497 44.2% 37,240 0.7% 602
1948 41.6% 24,464 56.2% 33,029 2.3% 1,318
1944 44.0% 20,730 55.6% 26,205 0.5% 226
1940 37.3% 19,445 61.8% 32,202 0.9% 479
1936 24.2% 8,345 74.6% 25,726 1.2% 408
1932 25.1% 7,011 70.3% 19,634 4.6% 1,275
1928 62.7% 14,692 36.4% 8,541 0.9% 212
1924 46.1% 8,646 16.8% 3,159 37.1% 6,958
1920 49.0% 7,079 42.2% 6,095 8.8% 1,270

Kern is a strongly Republican county in Presidential and congressional elections. The last Democratic candidate for President to win a majority in the county was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Kern County is split between , and .[11]


In the State Assembly, Kern County is split between the following four Assembly districts:

In the State Senate, Kern County is split between , and .[13]

On Nov. 4, 2008 Kern County voted 75.5% in favor of Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriages.


Kern County is governed by a five-member board of supervisors. As of 2013, they are:

  • 1st District, Mick Gleason.
  • 2nd District, Zack Scrivner.
  • 3rd District, Mike Maggard.
  • 4th District, David Couch.
  • 5th District, Leticia Perez.



According to the 2000 census, the county has a total area of 8,161.42 square miles (21,138.0 km2), of which 8,140.96 square miles (21,085.0 km2) (or 99.75%) is land and 20.46 square miles (53.0 km2) (or 0.25%) is water.[14]

Kern County is at the southern end of the California Central Valley. In area nearly the size of the state of New Jersey, it extends:

County seat

The county seat is Bakersfield (since 1874), with the original county seat being the former mining town of Havilah in the mountains between Bakersfield and Tehachapi.

Cities and towns

Cities over 300,000

Cities over 50,000

Cities over 10,000

Cities under 10,000

Census-designated places

The following are census-designated places (CDPs) within Kern County:

CDPs over 10,000

CDPs over 1,000

CDPs under 1,000

Formerly populated or historic places

  • Adobe Station

Adjacent counties

National protected areas



The county has a large agricultural base and is a significant producer of oil, natural gas, hydro-electric power, wind turbine power and geothermal power.The county accounts for one-tenth of overall U.S. oil production, and three of the five largest U.S. oil fields are in Kern County. Kern is also noted for its mineral wealth, including gold, borate, and kernite. The largest open pit mine in California, which mines borax, is at Boron in Kern County.[15]


As of 2009, Kern is California's top oil-producing county, with 81% of the state's 52,144 active oil wells.[16]

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. Yet it was an 1899 discovery along the Kern River, today part of the giant Kern River Oil Field, that was the breakthrough in Kern's oil production.[4] Oil was refined here even before the establishment of the county.[4] The Buena Vista Petroleum Company was organized and incorporated in 1864.[4] Soon thereafter a refinery was built that operated until April 1867 when work ceased because of high freight charges.[4]

It was in the Midway-Sunset Oil Field that well drillers brought about the 1910 Lakeview Gusher, the largest recorded oil strike in U.S. history. The well spewed approximately nine million barrels for a 18 months onto the adjacent terrain before workers finally were able to cap it.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19][20]

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.

Petroleum today

The county today contributes more than three-quarters of all the oil produced onshore in California.[18] Some of the large oil fields in Kern County which are still active include:

Aviation and space

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.[21] Kern County is also the home of the first inland spaceport in the United States, the Mojave Spaceport.

Air pollution

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.[22]

Metropolitan Statistical Area

The United States Office of Management and Budget has designated Kern County as the Bakersfield, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area.[23] 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.[24][25]


See also List of populated places in Kern County, California

According to the [4].


Places by population, race, and income


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 2012856,1582.0%
U.S. Decennial Census[34]
2012 Estimate[35]

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.[36]


According to the census[37] 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 Census 2000. 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%)

(Total can be greater than 100% because Hispanics may be counted in any race.)


Major highways

Public transportation



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.[39] California Whitethorn is a prominent example of chaparral species on the rocky slopes of the Sierra Nevada as well as the Inner Coastal Ranges.[40] California Buckeye is a notable tree found in both chaparral and forests and whose southern range terminates in Kern County.[41]


Among the outdoor recreational activities are horseback riding, water skiing (Lake Buena Vista, Lake Ming, and private ski ranches), off-road biking and dune buggies (Jawbone Canyon, California City and Randsburg), auto racing (Willow Springs, Buttonwillow, Bakersfield Speedway, Famoso, and an unnamed half-mile speedway under construction), hunting, paint-ball courses, white-water rafting, kayaking, snow skiing (Shirley Meadows and Mount Pinos), shooting ranges (5 Dogs Creek Range), hiking, biking (trails, paths, and roads), camping and fishing.


  • The Bakersfield Californian, Kern County
  • Mountain Enterprise, southwest Kern mountains area
  • Mojave Desert News, east Kern desert area
  • The Daily Independent, Ridgecrest, China Lake, and The Indian Wells Valley
  • The Kern Valley Sun, Kern Valley area
  • Tehachapi News, Tehachapi
  • Taft Midway Driller, Taft
  • The Delano Record, Delano

See also



Further reading

External links

  • Official website
  • Kern government web portal
  • Keysville Massacre, April 19, 1863 - original report from officer in charge.

Coordinates: 35°20′N 118°43′W / 35.34°N 118.72°W / 35.34; -118.72

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