Local Government 101: The difference between city and county services

Learn about where you can go for specific services between the city of San Jose and the county of Santa Clara.

Side-by-side images of the Santa Clara County clerk's building and San Jose City Hall.

Learn about the differences in services you can get from our county vs. our city.

Photos by SJtoday + Wikimedia Commons

Table of Contents

Class is in session, San Jose. We’re teaching SJ GOV 101, where we break down different aspects of our local government so we can become engaged citizens who create healthier (and more effective) communities.

For today’s lesson, we’re discussing the differences between city and county services — because let’s be honest, they can get muddled sometimes.

🏛️ Santa Clara County

The county of Santa Clara is one of California’s 58 counties and it encompasses San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Campbell, Cupertino, Milpitas, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Mountain View, Saratoga, and Palo Alto.

When it comes to countywide services, you can expect to find those related to health + welfare, social, and criminal justice programs. On the county’s website, you can:

  • Find — public + property records, restaurant inspection reports, tuberculosis (TB) screening locations
  • Request — birth and death certificates, medical marijuana ID cards, fingerprint appointments, adult immunization + travel vaccines
  • Apply for — child support services, financial + food assistance, landscape permits, marriage licenses
  • Report — child abuse, county-maintained road issues, environmental health violations, pest infestations

🏙️ City of San Jose

Within San Jose’s boundaries, our city is responsible for services like police + fire, parks, public works, water, animal control, waste, and libraries. On the city’s website, you can:

  • Find — city job openings, affordable housing, collection schedule, parks and rec activities + programs, adoptable pets
  • Learn about — rent control, emergency preparedness, what to recycle, where to access public Wi-Fi
  • Report — abandoned vehicles, graffiti, illegal dumping, code violations, crime
  • Pay — invoices for city services + fees, citations and parking tickets, library fines and late fees, development or code permits

So, how was that for a civic lesson? Let us know what other areas of our local government you’d like us to explore next.