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City of Avenal
—  City  —
Location in Kings County and the state of California
Coordinates: 36°00′15″N 120°07′44″W / 36.00417°N 120.12889°W / 36.00417; -120.12889Coordinates: 36°00′15″N 120°07′44″W / 36.00417°N 120.12889°W / 36.00417; -120.12889
Country United States
State California
County Kings
 - Total 19.1 sq mi (49.5 km2)
 - Land 19.1 sq mi (49.5 km2)
 - Water 0 sq mi (0 km2)
Elevation [1] 807 ft (246 m)
Population (2009)
 - Total 15,871
 - Density 768.3/sq mi (296.4/km2)
Time zone Pacific (PST) (UTC-8)
 - Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
ZIP code 93204
Area code(s) 559
FIPS code 06-03302
GNIS feature ID 1660285

Avenal is a city in Kings County, California, United States.[1] Avenal is located 35 miles (56 km) southwest of Hanford,[2] at an elevation of 807 feet (246 m).[1] It is part of the HanfordCorcoran Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA Code 25260), which encompasses all of Kings County. In area, it is the largest city in Kings County. The Zip Code for this community is 93204, and telephone numbers use the sequence (559) 386-XXXX. The population was 15,689 in the 2000 census. 7,062 of these residents were inmates at the Avenal State Prison, the first prison actively solicited by a community in the state of California. Many of the remaining residents largely either work at the prison or in the agriculture industry. The prison provides approximately 1,000 jobs to residents. The California Department of Finance estimates that the population of Avenal had grown slightly to 15,871 as of January 1, 2009.

The city's motto is "Oasis in the Sun".

File:Seal of Avenal.jpg
Seal of the City of Avenal


Early history

The City of Avenal was named by Spanish soldiers and explorers. "Avena" means oats or oatfield in Spanish. This area was covered with wild oats, "waist high," that looked like golden silk and covered the Kettleman Plains.

Early American settlers arrived in the Kettleman Hills during the 1850s with dreams of raising cattle and farming. Oil, however, would bring fame, fortune and people to the area. Indians had always known oil was in the hills, with natural seepage around Coalinga and Tar Canyon. The first Kettleman Hills well was drilled in 1900, followed by countless unproductive efforts.

On March 27, 1927, the Milham Exploration Company began work on Elliot No. 1. The crew toiled for 19 months, drilling past the 7,000-foot (2,100 m) mark. On October 5, 1928, the well blew out with a roar which was heard 20 miles (32 km) away, spewing forth an oil so fine that its color was white, and could reportedly be used unrefined as gasoline in automobiles.

The discovery of oil transformed Avenal into a boomtown. In 1929, Standard Oil surveyed the current site of Avenal to build a town. Makeshift houses were hauled in from Taft to take the place of the tents. A water line was laid and later a sewer plant was installed, a post office replaced a cigar box in the general store, a fire department was organized and a community grew. Standard Oil Company built the residents a 600-seat theater and a hospital.

Also in the first year (1929), nearly 20 businesses occupied Kings Street and Skyline Boulevard. By 1936, Avenal boasted a population of 3,000 - mostly oil workers - with 100 businesses and 69 private telephones and numerous community organizations. In 1940, Avenal was the second largest town in Kings County with a population of over 4,000 and was known to have some of the best services and schools in the state.

Although today Avenal and its economy are largely reliant on the Avenal State Prison and agriculture, Avenal was once a booming oil town known as the "Oil Fields Capital."

The teeming life of the oil fields, the forward thrust of civilization into the sun-baked hills so recently in their pristine state meant the early development of nearby towns where adequate living facilities could be provided to care for the fast growing population.

Milham City was projected by a group of Kings County citizens who owned lands on the slope of the hills east of the oil field. It scarcely had emerged from the dream stage when the Standard Oil Company announced in 1929, that a townsite had been set aside on the northwestern slope of the hills and that it would be called Avenal.

Thus the present thriving, interesting little town of Avenal came into being as the "oil capital" of the great field. Roads and streets were surveyed and laid out, water mains were laid, the town was launched on its purposeful career almost overnight.

An emergency hospital was built. Small and large homes were purposefully constructed to enjoy a fuller life in the erstwhile barren plains and trees were planted to provide much needed shade.

On December 5, 1929, the first mail arrived at the new Avenal post office located at Moore's Soda Fountain.

Growth and Development

Among the first business establishments at Avenal were Koepp's Welding Works, The Republic Supply Company, Mac's Coffee Shop, Moore's Soda Fountain and the Cross Lumber Company. Presently, the town included 26 oil field supply houses, 12 oil field service company branches, 9 grocery stores, 9 service stations, 8 restaurants, 5 welding establishments, 4 builders' supply houses and numerous other enterprises.

While the oil fields and their urban center were populated with industrious, lay-abiding people the problem of keeping the peace and maintaining the dignity of the law existed there just as it does in all other communities where there is life, action and big payrolls. To meet this commonplace problem a township was established and on April 1, 1937, E.W. Oliver was appointed as justice of the peace and William "Bill" Brendal was named constable. Aiding and cooperating with them in the enforcement of the law was Deputy Sheriff Richard "Dick" Doty, who was appointed by Sheriff L.P. Loftis in 1935.

Two other county offices maintained deputies at Avenal for service in the oil fields. They were Orville Robbins, deputy county assessor; and R. W. Zivnuska, deputy county treasurer.

By election in February 1934, the Avenal Township formed a fire district, which served efficiently both in the town and country districts. The three fire district commissioners originally elected were Ray Mohler, Floyd Rice and Jess Hamilton.

The Avenal district owned one well-equipped White fire truck and a half interest with the West Side Fire Protection District, of a 2-ton Reo fire truck. Two full-time drivers were regularly employed and 20 firemen worked call. The firehouse provided living quarters for the employees. Fire Chief L. H. Dell was assisted by M. L. Sperling.

By April 1930, Dr. S. V. Dragoo was the head of the emergency hospital. Dr. Dragoo was assisted by one office worker and two nurses, having two special nurses on call. Between five and six hundred calls per month with about thirty accident cases were handled by this organization, not to mention the ambulance service extended.

Appointed postmistress in November 1931, Mrs. Marie Eads served in that office until July 1933, when she resigned and Charles E. Day was appointed. The post office later occupied a two-story building leased by the Standard Oil Company in 1935. Later in Avenal's history, the Post Office leased a space adjacent to Finster's Market (later T&T Market). In the late 1990s, the post office was relocated to its current location near the intersection of Skyline Blvd and San Joaquin Street.

The collapse of oil and gas production came with the intrusion of salt water into the oil reservoir, leaving 65 to 70 percent of the North Dome of the Kettleman Hills still undisturbed.

In 1953, oil companies with holdings in the area fields unitized, naming the Standard Oil Company of California to operate the fields. Avenal's economy dwindled and with it, many stores, buildings and houses were vacated until the 1960s when an influx of agricultural workers made a major impact on Avenal and surrounding area.

The early 1970s saw two substantial projects that had significant impacts on the city: the completion of the California Aqueduct which brought in needed water to the westside, and the opening of Interstate 5.

The citizens of Avenal voted for incorporation in September 1979, and while going through the early stages of being a new City, the citizens pursued and were successful in bringing a state prison to Avenal. Avenal State Prison opened in 1987. By 2009, it housed 6,577 inmates and employed 1,517 people, making it a vital part of the community. The building of the facility dramatically increased the City's total valuation with construction, improvements and activity that could be seen in every area of the City.

Avenal is also home to the Central California Soaring Club headquartered at the Avenal Gliderport. This year round operation is one of the few glider-only airports in the western United States, and one of only a few in the entire US that owns/operates its own airport. A soaring contest is held there every spring.

Construction has been completed on the renovation of Skyline Boulevard (California State Route 269) in the City's joint effort with Caltrans. Avenal has also completed a massive public improvement project with the development of 52 miles (84 km) of new curbs, gutters and sidewalks throughout the City.

Although Avenal's future is no longer closely tied to oil, it will always mark its beginnings from "the day Milham came in," and the cigar box on the counter of the general store which was its first post office.


Avenal is located at 36°00′15″N 120°07′14″W / 36.00417°N 120.12056°W / 36.00417; -120.12056,[1] 180 miles (290 km) north of Los Angeles and 200 miles (320 km) south of both San Francisco and Sacramento. The city boasts at being located, "Half the way from the Bay to L.A." According to the United States Census Bureau, Avenal has a total area of 19.1 square miles (49.5 km²), all of it land.


Avenal is a small city of approximately 16,737 people, including prison inmates. Avenal owes its origin to the discovery of oil on 4 October 1928, in the adjacent Kettleman Hills. Avenal was the site of a "tent city" as the boom started, but foresight made the boom orderly, so that by 1940 Avenal was the second largest town in Kings County with a population of 4,600.

Growth continues today to include a more diversified economy based on oil, agriculture, and the service industry. In 1978, Avenal citizens voted to incorporate and improve the quality of life for all Avenal residents. The presence of the Avenal State Prison helps this rural community maintain economic stability, especially as the once-productive Kettleman North Dome Oil Field reaches exhaustion (less than one-half of one percent of its original oil remains).

As of the census[3] of 2000, there were 15,689 people, 1,928 households, and 1,640 families residing in the city. The population density was 767.3 people per square mile (296.3/km²). There were 2,061 housing units at an average density of 107.8/sq mi (41.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 35.84% White, 12.61% Black or African American, 0.95% Native American, 0.39% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 47.38% from other races, and 2.79% from two or more races. 65.88% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 1,928 households out of which 60.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.5% were married couples living together, 16.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 14.9% were non-families. 11.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 4.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 4.14 and the average family size was 4.30.

In the city the population was spread out with 21.9% under the age of 18, 13.5% from 18 to 24, 46.5% from 25 to 44, 15.0% from 45 to 64, and 3.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 289.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 403.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $29,710, and the median income for a family was $28,019. Males had a median income of $30,802 versus $20,852 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,090. About 28.3% of families and 30.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 34.4% of those under age 18 and 5.0% of those age 65 or over.


Avenal State Prison employs over 1,500 people.[4]

The City has been actively pursuing industrial development and is looking at future development of the Interstate 5 interchange area for both commercial and industrial uses.

In 2008, a 600-megawatt electric power generating plant was proposed to be built and operated in Avenal by Macquarie Cook Power, a subsidiary of the Macquarie Group, doing business as Avenal Power Center, LLC. The project application indicates that the power plant would be fueled with natural gas and that it would be air-cooled. The capital cost of the project would be $530 million. According to the project's proponents, the plant would generate enough electricity to supply 450,000 homes and businesses annually. In August 2009, Avenal City Planning Director Steve Sopp announced that the plant is expected to break ground in April 2010 and that construction would likely continue until October 2011.[5] The California Energy Commission gave its final approval to the project on December 16, 2009. However, opponents of the power plant have vowed to continue to fight. Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, has threatened to file a lawsuit if the United States Environmental Protection Agency approves the project.[6]

Many local residents are employed in agriculture, which experienced significant growth on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley after the completion of the California Aqueduct in the early 1970s. However, the community has been impacted by the late 2000s recession as well as drought and restrictions on pumping from the Sacramento River delta to protect endangered species. In September 2009, the unemployment rate was 24.4%.[7]


In the state legislature Avenal is located in the 16th Senate District, represented by Democrat Dean Florez, and in the 30th Assembly District, represented by Republican Danny Gilmore. Federally, Avenal is located in California's 20th congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of D +5[8] and is represented by Democrat Jim Costa.

Avenal is represented on the Kings County Board of Supervisors by Richard Valle of Corcoran.


All of the schools in the city of Avenal are within the Reef-Sunset Unified School District (RSUSD) located at 205 N. Park Avenue, Avenal CA, 93204. Suzanne Monroe was appointed Interim Superintendent of the school district in 2008.[9]

The schools in this district are:

  • Avenal Elementary School (K-5) Mascot: Wildcats
  • Tamarack Elementary School (K-3) Mascot: Tigers
  • Reef-Sunset Middle School (6-8) Mascot: Diamondbacks
  • Avenal High School (9-12) Mascot: Buccaneers
  • Sunrise Continuation School (9-12) Mascot: Eagles
  • Adelante Continuation School (9-12) Mascot: Eagles
  • Kettleman City Elementary School (K-8) Mascot: Coyotes
  • Avenal Adult School (adults) Mascot: Tortoise

West Hills Community College is located in Coalinga about 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Avenal.

Notable residents


  1. ^ a b c d U.S. Geological Survey Geographical Names Information System: Avenal, California
  2. ^ Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Quill Driver Books. p. 996. ISBN 9781884995149.  
  3. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  
  4. ^ accessed 5-31-09
  5. ^ Hanford Sentinel, August 22, 2009
  6. ^ Hanford Sentinel, December 18, 2009
  7. ^ Hanford-Corcoran Metropolitan Statistical Area, Industry Employment & Labor Force, California Employment Development Department, Labor Market Information Division, October 16, 2009
  8. ^ "Will Gerrymandered Districts Stem the Wave of Voter Unrest?". Campaign Legal Center Blog. Retrieved 2007-10-20.  
  9. ^ Hanford Sentinel, July 10, 2008

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