This map of Covina made me curious about the basics of City Governance.
April 23, 2020 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I was looking at a map of LA and noticed that you could click on the discrete towns and get a border to show the area. I have questions...

Here's the map I was looking at.
(I think that should work, but if it doesn't it's google maps of Covina and I've clicked on the word covina to get the outline.)

So I'm trying to relate how LA works with how London works:
What do these outlines represent?
It's a city right? so that means it....? has a seperate budget to LA. different governance? Is it anything like a London Borough or is it too far out and is more like... Reading or Swindon?

Also, and really the thing that puzzled me, what's the deal with the bit near cypress park that isn't included in Covina?
Or the bit in the south west?
It looks like the city just doesn't include those bits. What happens if you live on N Elspeth Way, do you pay different taxes, does it affect your trash pickup?

Also, charter oak covers some of the same area. Is that not a town?
Is it a different thing that works differently?
Wikipedia says that 'Some residents refer to the CDP portion as the "unincorporated part of Covina". '
What does it mean when a place is incorporated or not incorporated?
I've seen it mentioned as a plot point in films or tv shows, but I don't really get it.

What else about the organisation or governance of suburbs can you tell me that might be interesting? Or interestingly different to the UK system.
posted by Just this guy, y'know to Law & Government (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: LA County has 88 incorporated cities. Cities that incorporate have their own mayor, their own budget, their own planning department, police, etc. They don't have a separate public health department. They often contract with the county for other services.

Unincorporated means that the people living in that area don't have a separate city government, they are governed by LA County. LA County has a Board of Supervisors and a planning department, and planning commission, police, and all that.

I've been working with some of the county planners on outreach to people who live in the unincorporated areas of LA County. Many people don't know they live in unincorporated LA county. Each chunk of unincorporated LA county has its own name, some of which have a strong place identity like Charter Oak or Hacienda Heights, but others don't (West Puente Valley). Unincorporated county residents are represented by one of five district supervisors. The area that I am working on is called East San Gabriel Valley, with 21 different unincorporated communities, that are represented by 3 different county supervisors.

Basically a jurisdictional morass.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:13 PM on April 23, 2020 [11 favorites]


Incorporated - part of a city (like Los Angeles). Unincorporated - part of the county (of Los Angeles). Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Covina (and Los Angeles!) are incorporated cities inside LA county. Venice and Hollywood (among others) are districts of the city of Los Angeles.
posted by Rash at 4:15 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


Oh, and don't confuse LA County with the City of LA, which is one of the 88 incorporated cities within LA County.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:15 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


Although definitely not a reason I want to be improving on my LA County geography, the list of covid-19 cases and deaths in LA County gets divvied up by Cities (incorporated), LA City (since it's so big), and then the unincorporated communities.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:18 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


Covina
West Covina
Both are in LA County, but are not part of the City of Los Angeles.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:33 PM on April 23, 2020


Best answer: To give you an idea how this kinda of weird stuff happens:

I recently bought a house in a city called "Orange", in a county also called "Orange". It's about 20ish miles from your example.

In the ye olden times (at least in terms of Southern California) of the 1880's, about a half mile from where I am typing this, a company set up olive groves (or orchards? not sure what you call an olive "farm") and a large processing plant. This company also built housing for (big shot) employees, and a mill. At the time, there wasn't just nothing here, the city (which was about 4-ish miles away) had borders that didn't reach this far, and they county hadn't zoned anything or laid out the plots where homes would go.

Over the decades, the olive operation went bust, and the eventually the city grew its borders and the county zoned everything, and about 55 years ago the neighborhood in which my home was in was built, surrounding the existing former olive operation employee housing, which was (and is, today) giant old houses without no sidewalks, rather than 60's ranch houses like mine, and the mill area was turned into a public park, etc.

Well, since all this new stuff was built around existing housing, the new stuff was annexed into the City of Orange, and the old employee housing stayed as unincorporated Orange County that is referred to (fittingly) as Olive. You can see that whole in city here.

You'll notice that this "hole" is just one of a few in Orange; There is very large one to the east called Villa Park. I don't know the history of that one (I just know the history of down the street from me since I looked into it when I bought my house), but I'm sure there is a similar story. I also lived in a "hole" in my hometown in northern Los Angeles County, but that one was because they built a new road and homes just outside of town and my local city (Santa Clarita) hadn't gotten around to annexing the new stuff yet.

I think the difference in how long people have lived in SoCal verses London is why this seems so foreign to you. The same kind of stuff (people lived in a place, some other place grew out the old place, new stuff gets one name, old stuff is kinda still on it's own in the old way) also happened, it's just that 150 to 200 years ago someone decided "gee, let's clean this up a bit" and viola, London is once giant municipality with no holes.

In fact, when I visit I like to lookup how things got their names (Covent Garden, Blackfriars, Shoreditch, Tower Hamlets, etc) and it seems like each one included something along the lines of "was administered by so-and-so, but in 17XX Lord so-and-so did whatever and from that part forward it was now part of London".
posted by sideshow at 5:12 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


A lot of times certain neighborhoods or large individual properties fought incorporation and were left out of the newly formed city or newly annexed area. Historically, that is the reason for a lot of the holes in LA cities,
posted by fshgrl at 6:53 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


Charter Oak is a neighborhood - you can tell it's not a city because cities are in in Title Case while neighborhoods are in ALL CAPS.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:12 PM on April 23, 2020


Best answer: It's a similar situation in Miami-Dade County in Florida. There are lots of these little holes where individual farmers didn't want to sell their land for development as the metro area was built up around them and new municipalities were incorporated.

Over time most of these holes were eventually built-up too, but the residents didn't always see an upside to being annexed by the nearest municipality if it meant their property taxes might increase or municipal services might not be as good compared to what they get from the county government. And sometimes if those holes were developed with lower-income housing, nearby municipalities would rather not have them be part of their communities and are cool with the county taking responsibility for governance.

This is a more common phenomenon in metro areas that grew rapidly in the 20th Century in the West and South, as opposed to older cities of the Northeast.
posted by theory at 7:21 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


Which PoPo (Police) do you have to think about. Your City PoPo or the County Sheriff (or the State Highway Patrol).
posted by zengargoyle at 7:31 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


Fun fact: the City of Industry has over 3,000 businesses, a fake McDonalds used exclusively for filming, and 219 or fewer residents as of the 2010 census. It is basically impossible for municipal governance in LA County not to be stranger than you can imagine.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:39 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]


Best answer: What else about the organisation or governance of suburbs can you tell me that might be interesting? Or interestingly different to the UK system.

Without knowing much about the UK system, one of the things that UK (& European) folks I've met seem to have a bit of a hard time grasping is the extent to which the laws, rules, & regulations that most Americans deal with over the course of their lives are mostly state laws (and county and local laws) rather than national (a.k.a. Federal) laws. (American media probably doesn't help with that - from a lot of movies & TV shows it looks like you can't throw a rock without hitting an F.B.I. agent investigating every single crime in America, and that's just not how it works.)

So while the general idea of how & why areas wind up incorporated or not, or absorbed into larger cities, is probably pretty similar across the US, the details might differ quite a bit between, say, LA and Chicago and Atlanta, because each is operating under different state laws.

What does it mean when a place is incorporated or not incorporated?
I've seen it mentioned as a plot point in films or tv shows, but I don't really get it.


In this context, probably mostly what zengargoyle says - it's about which law enforcement organization is responsible for a specific area. (It's a fairly common trope in crime/detective fiction for corrupt/lazy cops to drag a dead body across a border into another jurisdiction so it becomes Somebody Else's Problem.)

(Personal weird example of how things can work here in the US - for a while I lived in an unincorporated part of another state (Florida), and while our little area was smack in the middle of one town, the city that we used for our US Postal Service address was an entirely different town a good two miles away. The different town was there first and had originally covered a much larger area, but I never found out how the little section I lived in had resisted becoming absorbed by the town that surrounded it.)
posted by soundguy99 at 9:40 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I was once having a hard time explaining US Counties to a Brit, when I got pedantic and then saw a lightbulb go on. County police authority is the Sheriff, which derives from Shire-Reeve. For some reason Shire made more sense than County.

So let’s say once upon a time, for some service to the crown, someone was made Count of Lincolnshire. He’ll put his seat of power in the big city of Lincoln, of course. But then there’s the rest of the Shire to cover.
Some places will be smaller cities, or market towns, that have set up their own official councils, or aldermen, some self-governance that’s recognizable. Those are Incorporated, meaning in one sense or another that they’ve filed the paperwork to become a Real Town.
Then there’s big patches of land where people do live, but just a cluster of fisherman’s houses, or crofters and sheep. People will refer to it when speaking as if it were a regular village, but it’s nowhere recognized as The Incorporated Town of Blank. Like a ‘common-law marriage’, where two have lived together for a dozen years and had two kids, but never actually went before a judge or priest and got married on paper.
Those folks therefore revert to being under the authority of just the Shire at large, with no more-local layer.
So for law enforcement, feudal tax collection, etc., The Count of Lincolnshire appoints one or more Shire-Reeves to handle those places with no locally-appointed authority.

That’s how you end up with a County Sheriff. Especially when you get to the Western US, where people were/are so few and far between that an entire County sized area can be nothing but a brick courthouse and a couple dozen wheat farming families, that’s it.
This can be hard to get a European head around, when every livable place has had stone buildings on it for a thousand years.
But there are places in the US even now, where if you drive up and ask Who’s in Charge Here, the answer might be “See that mountain over there? Between the river you just crossed, and that mountain, it’s just me. And the dog. I voted for the dog.”

Then 20th century land development comes along. Someone looking to put up a new shopping center sees that there’s a good road, near a population center, but in a place that doesn’t actually have a city government. Hey, that means no city taxes to pay, in a world where there also County, and State, and Federal taxes, and zoning laws, etc - skipping one out of four ain’t bad. This catches on, and you end up with an Unincorporated Area of X County that’s just as if not more built-up than neighboring town/city, but doesn’t actually have a governing body at the local level - just the County. No city streets, just county roads; no Metropolitan Police, just a County Sheriff.

Of course there are also places where the City and County borders are exactly the same - the City and County of San Francisco are congruent.
And then the other end you have the occasional ‘paper town’, that once was incorporated, but the mine closed down or whatever and everyone moved away, leaving neither local government or constituents to vote them in.

But in the long run, that’s what you’re seeing. A place that was just leftover parts of a larger county area, that never created its own City Charter and local bureaucracy. It looks like any other town now, but it only answers to County regulations and services.
posted by bartleby at 11:04 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


Best answer: I think the difference in how long people have lived in SoCal verses London is why this seems so foreign to you. The same kind of stuff (people lived in a place, some other place grew out the old place, new stuff gets one name, old stuff is kinda still on it's own in the old way) also happened, it's just that 150 to 200 years ago someone decided "gee, let's clean this up a bit" and viola, London is once giant municipality with no holes.

Hmm, I don't think so. Despite repeated rounds of rationalisation of local government there are still a lot of odd anomalies in English local government. For example, London has 32 boroughs, and the City of London which is governed in a totally different way and the City contains several temple liberties that technically aren't part of it at all.

I was once having a hard time explaining US Counties to a Brit, when I got pedantic and then saw a lightbulb go on. County police authority is the Sheriff, which derives from Shire-Reeve. For some reason Shire made more sense than County.

Interesting that they struggled with this as England actually has a system that isn't that far off for local government.

There are one-tier local authorities and two-tier local authorities.

A one tier system, called a unitary authority, are used for many cities and for some smaller counties. So for instance Nottingham (a city) and Shropshire (a county) are both unitaries. All the functions of local government sit at the same level.

London was two-tier between 1965 and 1986 with the Greater London Council sitting over the borough councils. The GLC was abolished and since that time the boroughs have been unitary authorities but with some specific powers delegated elsewhere.

Between 1986 and 2000, there was no single elected body for all of London although there were lots of separate bits and pieces either appointed by central government or by the boroughs collectively.

In 2000, the Greater London Authority was established with an elected mayor and assembly.

In much of the country there is a two-tier system. A county council with district counties underneath it.

In some places, there is a third tier of parish council as well.

What we do not have here is areas of counties that are outside a district council. So there is not an equivalent of being unincorporated.

There are also the ceremonial counties which continue to exist because they are important to people but have no real role in local government. The ceremonial county of Lincolnshire for instance includes the county of Lincolnshire (with its district subdivisions) and the unitary authorities of North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire.

The ceremonial counties correspond to the shrieval counties which had high sheriffs appointed. There actually still are high sheriffs but it is now an unpaid ceremonial position. Fun fact: their enforcement powers apparently continue to exist and are only not used by convention.
posted by atrazine at 2:01 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


Best answer: > What happens if you live on N Elspeth Way, do you pay different taxes, does it affect your trash pickup?

Property taxes and sales tax can vary between cities, so yes. Trash pickup could be contracted to the same company since there would only be so many options in an area, but otherwise yes.
posted by Horselover Fat at 7:26 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers. I have learned a great deal about a strange system. Honestly the UK system, as mentioned is equally weird, but has been run through about 1000+ years of extra time, so the weirdness is on several different levels. We have parishes and wards and all sorts.

Anyway, I think I mostly grasp the core question of "why is N Elspeth way (or whatever) not in Covina?".
It seems absolutely wild to me that if say you lived on E Cypress Street and got mugged whilst you went to get mcdonalds 300m away on N. Azusa Ave you'd have to figure out exactly where before you knew which police to call?

But I guess that's why you pay, or don't pay your various taxes?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:08 PM on April 24, 2020


you'd have to figure out exactly where before you knew which police to call?

I think this is why 911, and especially all the "enhanced" 911 services are so important in a lot of places? Having a single number to call, and then they figure out which police need to come come out, makes a lot of sense when you have a lot of jurisdictions.

I grew up in Altadena, which is unincorporated LA County, and several times over the years I think folks debated whether they wanted to be a full-fledged city, and so far haven't. I was a kid/teen, so I don't know the politics of it, tho.

In the other direction, in the part of Washington state where I live, several unincorporated areas became cities in the 90s, sometimes leaving holes between them. I lived for a year and a half in one such hole: in that place, trash pickup was pretty straightforward, since both the county and the city were using the same company, but IIRC it was a nightmare to get good internet service for reasons that I have since forgotten.

The city I live in now had several tiny holes (half a dozen homes each), although I don't know how they ended up as gaps in the city, and the main issue for those residents is that they didn't want to pay to connect to city sewer.
posted by epersonae at 3:17 PM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


ALSO: In some places on the East Coast there are cities that were incorporated before the US was an independent nation and our states were actually states! So, for example, in the state of Virginia (one of our 13 original colonies that became the first states) there are 95 counties and also 38 independent cities that are not under the jurisdiction of any county.

Sometimes there are other areas *around* those independent cities that also have that city name in their postal address, but they are really part of a larger county and not part of the independent city. So you could live in the independent City of Falls Church, Virginia, founded in 1734, which is its own thing legally. Or you could live in an unincorporated part of nearby Fairfax County, where your street address would still say "Falls Church, VA". People often will say "I live in City of Falls Church" to differentiate.

And the difference is not only services like police and trash pickup, but also schools. Don't sleep on how important that is to real estate in the US, because schools are funded partially by local taxes and the quality varies widely from place to place. City of Falls Church residents pay different taxes and have their own school system, and some people pay a premium for housing within the city limits so their children have access to those "better schools".

(NoVa Mefites, don't @ me about this ... I'm not trying to make a statement about school quality, just trying to explain our municipal quirks ...)
posted by mccxxiii at 7:12 PM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


When in LA you can tell if you’re in a different city from the street signs
posted by flaterik at 11:14 PM on April 26, 2020


« Older Almost intermediate runner   |   2000 mile road trip with a newborn Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments