Visalia is the 5th largest city in the San Joaquin Valley after Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton and Modesto, the 44th most populous in California, and 198th in the United States.
As the county seat of Tulare County, Visalia serves as the economic and governmental center to one of the most productive single agricultural counties in the country.
Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks are located in the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains, the highest mountain range in the contiguous United States.
The area around Visalia was first settled by the Yokuts and Mono Native American tribes hundreds of years ago. It is unknown when the first Europeans arrived, but the first to make a written record of the area was Pedro Fages in 1722.
When California achieved statehood in 1850, Tulare County did not exist. The land that is now Tulare County was part of the huge County of Mariposa. In 1852, some pioneers settled in the area, then called Four Creeks. The area got its name from the many watershed creeks and rivers flowing from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. All the water resulted in a widespread swampy area with a magnificent oak forest. The industrious group of settlers petitioned the state legislature for county status and on July 10 of that same year, Tulare County became a reality.
One of the first inhabitants of a fort built by the settlers was Nathaniel Vise. Nathaniel was responsible for surveying the new settlement. In November 1852, he wrote, "The town contains from 60-80 inhabitants, 30 of whom are children of school age. The town is located upon one of the subdivisions of the Kaweah River and is destined to be the county seat of Tulare." In 1853, that prediction became a reality and Visalia has remained the county seat since that time. Visalia is named for Nathaniel Vise's ancestral home, Visalia, Kentucky.
Early growth in Visalia can be attributed in part to the gold rush along the Kern River. The gold fever brought many transient miners through Visalia along the way and when the lure of gold failed to materialize, many returned to Visalia to live their lives and raise families. In 1859 Visalia was added to John Butterfield's Overland Stage route from St. Louis, Missouri to San Francisco. A plaque commemorating the location can be found at 116 East Main Street. Included in the early crop of citizens were some notorious and nasty individuals who preyed upon the travelers along the Butterfield Stage route. Many saloons and hotels sprouted up around the stage stop downtown and commerce was brisk if a bit risky.
The next memorable event was the arrival of the telegraph in 1860. Visalians then could get timely information of the events taking place on the East Coast which would ultimately develop into the American Civil War. During the Civil War, many citizens of Visalia couldn't decide whether Visalia should stand on the side of the North or the South, so they simply had a Mini Civil War of their own on Main Street. No one really knows the outcome of the war, but apparently it was concluded to the satisfaction of the participants and life returned to normal. The federal government, however, was not so easily convinced, and reacting to concern about sedition, banned Visalia's pro-South Equal Rights Expositor newspaper and established a military garrison. Camp Babbitt was built in 1862 to stop overt Southern support as well as maintain law and order in the community. During these Civil War years, Visalia was incorporated, which gave the town new rights.
The second incorporation in 1874 moved Visalia into city status with a common council and an ex-officio Mayor and President.
In 1893, the train bandits and murderers John Sontag and Chris Evans were apprehended, badly wounded, outside Visalia in what is called the Battle of Stone Corral. Sontag died three weeks later in police custody in Fresno; Evans was sent to Folsom State Prison.
In 1904, the Visalia Electric Railroad was incorporated.
In October 1933, Visalia was the site of a fact-finding committee appointed by Governor James Rolph and charged with investigating labor violence in the San Joaquin cotton strike. Labor activist Caroline Decker led hundreds of strikers in a march on the courthouse, and led the questioning of strikers during the investigation.
Visalia served as a host city for the Amgen Tour of California in 2009 and 2010.
The city is divided into neighborhoods, some of which were incorporated places or communities. There are also several independent cities around Visalia that are popularly grouped with the city of Visalia, due to its immediate vicinity. Generally, the city is divided into the following areas: Downtown Visalia, North Visalia, The Eastside, Southwest Visalia, the Industrial Area, Mooney, and the Westside.
Visalia has a rich architectural history including many extant buildings dating to the mid-late 1800s. Throughout the town center are many historic brick structures, including the Bank of Italy (currently Bank of the Sierra) and the Art Deco/Beaux-Arts Visalia Town Center Post Office, both of which are registered with the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to many other historic buildings and Victorian houses, Visalia is also home to a distinctive Fox Theatre, which was restored by a community group known as "Friends of the Fox" and currently serves as a live venue for music and stage performances.
Visalia is irregularly shaped and covers a total area of 36.3 square miles (94 km2), of which 36.3 square miles (94 km2) is land and 0.05% is covered by water. Visalia is located at 36°19'27" North, 119°18'26" West (36.324100, -119.307347).
The highest point in the Visalia-Porterville area is Mount Whitney. Located at the far reaches of the Sierra Nevada roughly 58 miles east of the city, it reaches a height of 14,505 ft (4,421 m). The hilliest parts of the Visalia area are the Venice Hills and the entire Sierra Nevada foothills east of the city. There are four main streams that run through the city. The major stream is the St. John's River, which begins at the diversion dam in the Kaweah River and is largely seasonal. The others are Mill Creek, Cameron Creek, and Packwood Creek. There are also many smaller creeks that flow through the city. The Friant-Kern Canal runs just east of the city along the western edge of the Sierra Nevada Foothills.
Visalia is subject to earthquakes due to its proximity to the Pacific Ring of Fire. The geologic instability produces numerous fault lines both above and below ground, which altogether cause approximately 10,000 earthquakes every year. One of the major fault lines is the San Andreas Fault. No major earthquakes have hit the Visalia area. Most quakes are of low intensity and are not felt. The San Joaquin Valley and metropolitan areas are also at risk from blind thrust earthquakes. Parts of the city are also vulnerable to floods.
Visalia has a cold semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification BSk), and receives just enough annual precipitation to stay out of Köppen's BWk (cold desert climate) classification. Visalia enjoys plenty of sunshine throughout the year, with an average of only 26 days with measurable precipitation annually.
The period of April through October is warm to hot and dry with average high temperatures of 74–94 °F (23–34 °C) and lows of 48–65 °F (9–18 °C). However, temperatures frequently exceed 100 °F (38 °C) and occasionally reach 105 °F (41 °C).
The period of November through March is mild and somewhat rainy with average high temperatures of 54–67 °F (12–19 °C) and lows of 36–45 °F (2–7 °C), but temperatures could occasionally drop to high 20s (−3 °C) or be as high as 70 °F (21 °C) for a few days during winter.
Visalia averages 11 inches (279.40 mm) of precipitation annually, which mainly occurs during the winter and spring (November through April) with generally light rain showers, but sometimes as heavy rainfall and thunderstorms. The valley gets slightly less rainfall, while the mountains get slightly more. Years of average rainfall are rare; the usual pattern is bimodal, with a short string of dry years (perhaps 7–8 inches or 180–200 millimetres) followed by one or two wet years that make up the average. Snowfall is extremely rare in the valley, but the mountains a couple miles east of city limits receive snowfall every winter. The greatest snowfall recorded in Visalia was just below 3 inches (7.62 cm) on January 25, 1999.
The Visalia area is rich in native plant species due in part to a diversity in habitats, including creeks, rivers, hills, and mountains. Native plants include: Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), Oak (Valley oak), California Bay (Umbellularia californica), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita), Salvia (Salvia spathacea), Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), California fuchsia (Epilobium cleistogamum), Monkeyflower (Mimulus), Penstemon, Western Melica (Melica californica), and Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens).
From the City of Visalia website: "...the city council finds it necessary to establish basic standards, measures and compliance requirements for the preservation and protection of native Valley oak trees and landmark trees..."
Visalia has adopted this ordinance for pruning or removing Valley Oak Trees. The area was once a dense oak woodland and the city is trying to maintain a healthy urban forest partly through preserving Mooney Grove Park, one of the largest Valley Oak groves in California. Also, just outside the city limits is the Kaweah Oaks Preserve which is a 322-acre nature preserve. It protects one of the last remaining Valley Oak riparian forests in the San Joaquin Valley.
Visalia was the home of the minor league baseball team the Visalia Oaks for almost 30 years. The team's namesake was in recognition of the city's arboreal identity and had the mascot of Oakie, and later Chatter, both gray squirrels.
Owing to geography and heavy reliance on automobiles, Visalia suffers from air pollution in the form of smog and other particulates. The Visalia area and the rest of the San Joaquin Valley are susceptible to atmospheric inversion, which holds in the exhausts from road vehicles, airplanes, locomotives, manufacturing, and other sources. Unlike other cities that rely on rain to clear smog, Visalia gets only 11.03 inches (280.16 mm) of rain each year: pollution accumulates over many consecutive days. Issues of air quality in Visalia and other major cities led to the passage of early national environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act. More recently, the state of California has led the nation in working to limit pollution by mandating low emission vehicles. Particulate pollution can also be high during the winter due to frequent low level inversions and during longer periods of dry weather. The same low level inversions that cause high pollution levels in the winter are the reason for the frequent dense fog, locally known as Tule Fog.
As a result, pollution levels have dropped in recent decades. The number of Stage 1 smog alerts has declined from over 100 per year in the 1970s to almost zero in the new millennium. Despite improvement, the 2006 annual report of the American Lung Association ranked the city as the 11th most polluted in the country with short-term particle pollution and year-round particle pollution. In 2007 the annual report of the American Lung Association ranked the city as the 4th most polluted in the country with short-term particle pollution and year-round particle pollution. In 2008, the city was ranked the third most polluted and again fourth for highest year-round particulate pollution.
The economy of Visalia is driven by agriculture (especially grapes, olives, cotton, citrus, and nursery products), livestock, and distribution and manufacturing facilities (electronics and paper products are a couple of significant manufacturing sectors). Light manufacturing and industrial/commercial distribution represent the fastest growing portion of Visalia's employer base.
According to the Visalia Economic Development Corporation, the top ten employers in the city are, in descending order, Tulare County, Kaweah Delta Medical Center, College of the Sequoias, Family Healthcare Network, the City of Visalia, VF, International Paper, Jostens, Cigna, and Visalia Medical Clinic.Visalia was featured in several episodes of season 2 of the TV series 24, though many characters mispronounced its name.Ken Park, a controversial 2002 film directed by Larry Clark and Edward Lachman, was filmed on location in Visalia. Never released in the United States, the film is much better known in Europe and abroad.Kevin Costner attended Mt. Whitney High School for one semester in Visalia. His movie Bull Durham mentions the town's professional baseball team, the Visalia Oaks (now the Visalia Rawhide), which has been in Visalia for more than 60 years (book-ending a brief stint of the team as the Central Valley Rockies).As a minor league team for the Oakland A's, the Visalia Oaks (now Visalia Rawhide) were mentioned twice during the 2011 movie Moneyball
The major daily newspaper in the area is the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register owned by Gannett. There are also a number of smaller regional newspapers, alternative weeklies and magazines, including the Valley Voice Newspaper. Many cities adjacent to Visalia also have their own daily newspapers whose coverage and availability overlaps into certain Visalia neighborhoods.
Visalia is home to the Visalia Rawhide (a "high-A" class team of the Arizona Diamondbacks) of Minor League Baseball. The Rawhide compete in the California League at Recreation Park.
With 233,293 Christians in the Metropolitan Area (85,000 in city proper) the region has a large population of Christians. Churches of the Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian. Lutheran, Baptist, Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Mennonite, and other denominations can be found throughout the city. Some of the larger Protestant Christian congregations include Visalia First Assembly, Neighborhood Church, Gateway Church, Grace Community Church, Christ Lutheran Church, Visalia Nazarene Church, and Visalia Community Covenant Church.
Visalia has a large multi-ethnic population where a wide variety of faiths are practiced, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Bahá'í, various Eastern Orthodox Churches, Sufism and others. Immigrants from Southeast Asia for example, have formed the Lao Buddhist Temple of Visalia, one of two Buddhist Temples in the Visalia Area.
College of the Sequoias, a community college, is the only public college located in Visalia.
Universities with branch campuses located within the city limits:Fresno StateChapman UniversityFresno Pacific UniversityBrandman University
Private colleges in Visalia include:San Joaquin Valley CollegeMilan InstituteEstes Institute of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences
Visalia is the only major city in the Central Valley with a population of over 100,000 that does not have a local four-year university.
Visalia Unified School District serves the entire city of Visalia, as well as several surrounding communities, with a student population of about 30,000. The Tulare County Public Library operates its largest branch, the Visalia Branch in Downtown Visalia. There are other smaller libraries in Visalia, such as the Visalia Learning Center.
California State Route 99, known as the Pearl Harbor Survivors Memorial Freeway, is the major north-south highway that heads north to Fresno and south to Bakersfield. California State Route 198, the Sequoia Freeway, runs east to Sequoia National Park and west to Hanford. California State Route 63, Mooney Boulevard, heads north towards Orosi and Kings Canyon National Park, and south to Tulare. California State Route 216, Lovers Lane, heads east to Woodlake.
The Visalia Transit (formerly Visalia City Coach) operates public transportation to, from and within the communities of Visalia, Goshen, Farmersville and Exeter. The Visalia Transit also provides Dial-A-Ride curb-to-curb para-transit service on a shared-ride, demand-response basis to locations within the city limits of Visalia, Goshen and Farmersville.
The Visalia Towne Trolley serves the Downtown Visalia area.
The Tulare County Area Transit (TCaT) provides the public transit services between Visalia and smaller communities throughout the greater Visalia Area. Service includes Fixed Route and Demand Responsive services that are offered Monday through Saturday.
Amtrak has a bus stop in Visalia for commuting rail passengers with Visalia as their final destination. The nearest Amtrak stations that offer commercial rail transportation service are located in Hanford and Fresno. The Sequoia Shuttle provides an alternative form of transportation from Visalia and Three Rivers to Sequoia National Park.
The Loop is an easy, safe and free way for all school aged kids to get to community centers and recreation centers throughout Visalia where activities for youth are happening.
Visalia has one airport, the Visalia Municipal Airport (IATA: VIS, ICAO: KVIS, FAA LID: VIS).
Other nearby commercial airports include:(IATA: FAT, ICAO: KFAT, FAA LID: FAT) Fresno Yosemite International Airport, owned by the city of Fresno; serves the San Joaquin Valley.(IATA: TLR, ICAO: KTLR, FAA LID: TLR) Mefford Field Airport, owned by the city of Tulare(IATA: PTV, ICAO: KPTV, FAA LID: PTV) Porterville Municipal Airport, owned by the city of Porterville; serves the Southeastern Sierra Nevadas and the South Valley of the Porterville area(IATA: BFL, ICAO: KBFL, FAA LID: BFL) Meadows Field Airport, also known as Kern County Airport #1, serves the South Valley
The 2010 United States Census reported that Visalia had a population of 124,442. The population density was 3,431.4 people per square mile (1,324.9/km²). The racial makeup of Visalia was 80,203 (64.5%) White, 2,627 (2.1%) African American, 1,730 (1.4%) Native American, 6,768 (5.4%) Asian, 164 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 27,249 (21.9%) from other races, and 5,701 (4.6%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 57,262 persons (46.0%).
The Census reported that 123,116 people (98.9% of the population) lived in households, 606 (0.5%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 720 (0.6%) were institutionalized.
There were 41,349 households, out of which 18,102 (43.8%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 21,219 (51.3%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 6,508 (15.7%) had a female householder with no husband present, 2,909 (7.0%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 3,282 (7.9%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships. 8,383 households (20.3%) were made up of individuals and 3,330 (8.1%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.98. There were 30,636 families (74.1% of all households); the average family size was 3.42.
The population was spread out with 37,406 people (30.1%) under the age of 18, 12,461 people (10.0%) aged 18 to 24, 33,922 people (27.3%) aged 25 to 44, 27,779 people (22.3%) aged 45 to 64, and 12,874 people (10.3%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31.6 years. For every 100 females there were 95.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.1 males.
There were 44,205 housing units at an average density of 1,218.9 per square mile (470.6/km²), of which 25,380 (61.4%) were owner-occupied, and 15,969 (38.6%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 2.6%; the rental vacancy rate was 6.7%. 73,980 people (59.4% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 49,136 people (39.5%) lived in rental housing units.
According to the 2006–2008 American Community Survey, the racial composition of Visalia was as follows:White: 84.0% (Non-Hispanic Whites: 50.0%)Black or African American: 2.2%Native American: 1.8%Asian: 5.0%Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 0.1%Some other race: 7.6%Two or more races: 2.9%Hispanic or Latino (of any race): 40.6%
African Americans make up 2.2% of Visalia's population. According to the survey, there were 2,574 African Americans residing in Visalia.
Native Americans make up 0.7% of Visalia's population. According to the survey, there were 827 Native Americans residing in Visalia.
Asian Americans make up 5.0% of Visalia's population. According to the survey, there were 5,762 Asian Americans residing in Visalia. The seven largest Asian American groups were the following:Other Asian (Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, Hmong, Lahu, Mien, etc.): 2.7% (3,092)Vietnamese: 0.7% (804)Filipino: 0.5% (597)Chinese: 0.4% (500)Indian: 0.4% (437)Japanese: 0.2% (237)Korean: 0.1% (97)
Pacific Islander Americans make up 0.1% of Visalia's population. According to the survey, there were 138 Pacific Islander Americans residing in Visalia.
Multiracial Americans make up 2.9% of Visalia's population. According to the survey, there were 3,350 multiracial Americans residing in Visalia. The four main multiracial groups were the following:White & Black: 0.4% (468)White & Native American: 0.9% (1,007)White & Asian: 0.5% (534)Black & Native American: 0.1% (68)
Hispanics and Latinos make up 40.6% of Visalia's population. According to the survey, there were 47,251 Hispanics and Latinos residing in Visalia. The four main Hispanic/Latino groups were the following:Mexican: 38.2% (44,397)Puerto Rican: 0.2% (177)Cuban: 0.1% (91)Other Hispanic or Latino (Colombian, Panamanian, Uruguayan, etc.): 2.2% (2,586)
White Americans make up 84.0% of Visalia's population. According to the survey, there were 97,735 White Americans residing in Visalia. Much of the European American population is of German, Irish, English, Italian, Russian, Polish, and French descent.
According to the 2006–2008 American Community Survey, the top ten European ancestries were the following:German: 8.2% (9,486)English: 6.4% (7,445)Irish: 5.8% (6,726)Portuguese: 2.5% (2,983)Italian: 2.4% (2,792)French: 2.0% (2,278)Dutch: 1.6% (1,877)Scottish: 1.0% (1,178)Scotch-Irish: 0.8% (953)Polish: 0.7% (820)
The 2000 census recorded 91,565 people, 30,883 households, and 22,901 families residing in the city, with a population density of 3,203.8 people per square mile. There were 32,658 housing units. As of the 2000 US Census, the racial distribution in Visalia was 54.9% White American, 2.3% African American, 6.0% Asian American, 2.4% Native American, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 20.3% from other races, and 4.2% from two or more races. 35.6% of the population was Hispanic or Latino (of any race).
The census indicated that 70.9% spoke English, 12.1% Spanish, 1.0% Lahu, 0.8% Mien, 0.7% Hmong, 0.6% Laotian and 0.5% Tagalog as their first language.
According to the census, 41.1% of households had children under 18, 54.9% were married couples, 14.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.8% were non-families. 20.7% of households were made up of individuals and 8.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.91 and the average family size 3.37.
The age distribution was: 31.3% under 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 28.5% from 25 to 44, 19.7% from 45 to 64, and 10.9% who were 65 or older. The median age was 32. For every 100 females there were 99.4 males. For every 100 females aged 18 and over, there were 88.9 males.
The median income for a household was $53,975, and for a family was $61,823. Males had a median income of $46,423, females $34,265. The per capita income was $23,751. 14.8% of the population and 13.2% of families were below the poverty line. 21.4% of those under the age of 18 and 9.4% of those aged 65 or older were below the poverty line.
Like much of the San Joaquin Valley, more resident voters are registered in the Republican Party than the Democratic Party.
Of the 51,718 registered voters in Visalia; approximately 31.9% are Democrats and 49.1% are Republicans. The remaining 19.0% are Independents or are registered with one of the many smaller political parties, like the Green Party or the Libertarian Party.
Visalia is a charter city with a city charter approved by the electorate that acts as a "constitution" for the city. Visalia voters, at large, elect a 5-member City Council that serves as the city's legislative and governing body. The city council members serve 4-year terms, and they select one member to serve as mayor and one to serve as vice mayor. The City Council hires a powerful city manager that serves as executive officer, administers city operations, and carries out city policies. Every odd-numbered year either 2 or 3 members are elected by the people to serve a 4-year term. Each March, the City Council meets and chooses one of its members as mayor and one as vice-mayor.
However, on March 5, 2012, the Visalia City Council voted to put on the November 2012 ballot an initiative that would transform the way that Visalia voters get to elect their city council. Currently, the entire city of Visalia votes "at-large" for the 5 members of the Visalia City Council. In November 2012, Visalia voters will be able to decide if they want "district elections" in which the candidate must live in a specific area (or "district"), and only residents of that area cast their votes. The City Government of Visalia has been threatened with a lawsuit from a network of civil-rights attorneys that are charging the city with violating the California Voting Rights Act, passed into law in 2002.
There are dozens of California city "governments", school boards, hospital districts, community college districts, and other local governments in this situation: Either Latinos or Asians make up the majority of the residents, yet the local or district-level governing body has only white members (or only one minority member). These entities are being threatened with lawsuits unless they eliminate "at-large" elections and replace them with "district" elections. Because the minority groups are often geographically concentrated, district elections would result in some positions being elected by large enough numbers of minority voters that a member of their group would get elected.
In the California State Legislature, Visalia is in the 16th Senate District, represented by Republican Jean Fuller, and in the 26th Assembly District, represented by Republican Devon Mathis.
In the United States House of Representatives, Visalia is in California's 22nd congressional district, represented by Republican Devin Nunes.
The United States Postal Service operates the Town Center Post Office at 111 West Acequeia Avenue, the Visalia Post Office at 2345 West Beech Avenue, and the Millennium Post Office at 100 North Akers Street, The Town Center Post Office received listing in the National Register of Historic Places on January 11, 1985.