To rail or not to rail was the big question of 2012.
Regardless of which side of the tracks you stood on California's high-speed rail effort, there could be no dispute about this: The central San Joaquin Valley was at the epicenter of a national debate about a transportation system widely used elsewhere in the world.
Farmers worried about being forced to sell prime crop land. Business owners voiced concern about relocation costs and losing customers. Lawsuits were filed in hopes of derailing the plan. Backers of the high-speed train system talked about jobs, reducing car traffic and air emissions and moving people around the state more efficiently.
But plenty of other stories and issues grabbed the attention of residents and readers this year. Fresno Unified School District occupied a permanent spot in the headlines. Conversely, the inability of police to keep car serial thieves behind bars became so commonplace, it barely qualified as news anymore.
The city of Fresno, once again, passed a plan for development that promised to curb sprawl but was immediately panned by developers hoping to cash in when the economy recovers. Rio Mesa, the long ballyhooed collection of developments in Madera County touted to be the size of Clovis one day, remained bottled up in court.
There were elections, of course, and President Barack Obama won another four years in the White House -- somehow managing to carry Fresno County for the second time. Maybe this part of the Valley isn't as conservative as its reputation.
And Fresno's first strong mayor, Jim Patterson, got back on his political horse and won an Assembly seat by beating fellow Republican Bob Whalen in the first election contested under California's voter-approved "top two" primary system.
(Go here to see our top photos of 2012, plus all manner of best-of lists.)
I'm picking the top stories of 2012. No doubt, I missed many. Your list likely will be radically different than mine, and that's OK. The idea is to jog memories -- good and bad -- before heading into 2013.
Here is a quick look at the 10 themes made 2012 a year to remember in the central San Joaquin Valley.
1. High-speed rail: Rumbles forward.
2. Education: To include an ongoing focus on Fresno Unified and John Welty setting an end date at Fresno State.
3. Crime: To include the unsettling recurrence of fatal drunken driving crashes and a workplace shooting on Election Day.
4. Homelessness: In the city of Fresno.
5. Agriculture: Continuing to largely enjoy boom times.
6. Heroes: Around most corners, there's someone ready to make a difference.
7. Fresno City Hall issues: To include outsourcing residential trash service and haggling over animal control services.
8. Health: To include the tale of an undocumented immigrant who spent more than a year at Community Regional Medical Center.
9. Sports successes: The resurgence of the Fresno State football program leads the way.
10. Fresno County issues: To include whether to allow mining on Jesse Morrow Mountain.
Here are the Top 10 stories of 2012
1. No train, no tracks, but high-speed rail chugs along
Interest in high-speed rail was so intense that The Bee and other California newspapers sent reporter Tim Sheehan to Spain to learn about the 1,740-mile bullet-train system there. He found the trains to be fast (top speed 187 mph), comfortable and expensive to ride ($100 to $250 a ticket).
Republican leaders in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., said that high-speed rail was too costly ($68 billion) and wouldn't attract sufficient ridership or shouldn't be a priority in light of the nation's slowly recovering economy and mounting government debt.
The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6632, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @fresnomac on Twitter.