All 468 California cities are municipal corporations. Their formation is provided for in the state constitution, and they fall into three categories: general law cities (more than four out of five cities in California), charter cities, and one consolidated City and county (San Francisco).

General Law cities derive their powers from and organize their governments according to acts of the legislature. The fundamental law of these cities is found in the state Government Code, which enumerates their powers and specifies their structure. Charter cities are formed when citizens specifically frame and adopt a charter or document to establish the organization and basic law of the City. The constitution guarantees to these charter cities a large measure of "home rule," granting to them, independent of the legislature, direct control over local affairs. Such affairs include the ability to contract work projects done in the City. There are 83 charter cities in California.

The discernment between General Law and Charter cities is found in the degree of control which the state government may exercise over them. Charter cities have more freedom to innovate and to pass ordinances according to local need. General Law cities nevertheless also have considerable choice in their form of municipal government, and fairly broad powers over local affairs. Because the legislature has tended to give general law cities the same control over internal matters that the constitution grants to Charter cities, the original distinction between the two forms of City authority has been somewhat blurred. The City of La Jolla would be designated as a General Law City.


The City of San Diego is so large (330 square miles) that the cities of Manhattan, Pittsburgh, Boston, San Francisco and Cleveland all fit inside its square mileage.