Unless Ed Lee shaves off his mustache in the next few days, we're fairly confident the following news stories will hold their spots on the 2011 list of news events that were followed by the most people on our site.
Santa Cruz's own James Durbin made it to the top-four on the perpetually popular televised singing contest. As KQED's Dan Brekke wrote, "he was a fan favorite for many reasons, including the fact he's overcome diagnoses of Asperger's and Tourette's syndromes to become a serious contender..." After he was voted out of the competition, the 22-year old came home to perform on "Durbin Day."
When California enacted a new online sales tax in June as part of a budget deal, it put the state on a collision course with online retailing giant Amazon.com. Amazon had been exempt from collecting sales tax from customers because of its status as an out-of-state retailer. In a move meant to circumvent the new law, Amazon severed ties with smaller online stores in California that made money by referring customers to Amazon. It also started a referendum drive to have the law overturned by voters. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and Amazon will not have to collect sales tax until September, 2012. If before then Congress passes a federal law prescribing how online retailers should be taxed, that would supersede California's legislation.
In October, a disgruntled employee at a Cupertino quarry shot and killed three and injured six co-workers, as well as wounding a woman whose car he tried to steal. The manhunt for Shareef Allman went on all day and night, until three Santa Clara deputies shot and killed him the next morning in the driveway of a home.
In May the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court's order that California must reduce its prison population. That left the state having to pare its prison system by tens of thousands of inmates within two years. In an unusual move, the court included photos of overcrowded prison conditions, and many people clicked to find out what they were.
In November, UC student protests over tuition hikes turned ugly when police responded with questionable use of force. Videos of the incidents were posted on the web and seen all over the world. At UC Berkeley, campus police and other law enforcement officers aggressively thrust their batons into students and faculty and dragged some protesters by the hair. At UC Davis, a campus police lieutenant gained worldwide notoriety when he casually pepper-sprayed a group of seated students. Campus officials were forced to apologize and launch investigations, and the state legislature held hearings.
If there's one thing we learned after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan sent tiny amounts of nuclear particles over the ocean and toward our shores -- people do not like radiation in any way, shape or form. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- repeated assurances by nuclear experts and government officials that the amount of radiation wafting our way was so dilute as to be negligible, Californians took to the web in droves to read status reports, look at real-time measurements, and voice their skepticism that everything was going to indeed be okay.
Whatever hopes the Giants had of repeating their miraculous World Series victory last year, they seemed to instantly shatter as the consequence of a single play. On May 25th at AT&T park, Marlins' rookie Scott Cousins collided with Giants' catcher Buster Posey at home plate, breaking the 2010 rookie of the year's leg. For days after, fans flocked to the web to see the video. The Giants put up a valiant struggle, holding first place into August, but finished eight games out of the running.
On March 11, Japan was hit by a massive 9.0 earthquake, which then caused an epic tsunami that swept away entire towns. The west coast of the U.S. went on alert, and Californians waited for the waves to hit. When they did, the harbor at Crescent City, near the Oregon border, was badly damaged, and a dock and boats were destroyed in Santa Cruz.
California's same-sex marriage ban was in the news much of the year. Last year, federal judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. Proponents of the original ballot measure appealed, and in early January a federal appeals court sent the case on a detour through the California Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on whether those proponents have the legal right to defend a proposition in court when the state's attorney general and governor decline to do so. In November, the state high court ruled unanimously in favor of the pro-Prop 8 legal parties, sending the case back to the Ninth Circuit. If that court decides to apply the opinion to the federal Prop 8 case, it would then rule on the constitutional question. In any event, the case is almost certainly headed to the Supreme Court. Two ancillary issues will also be decided by the federal appeals court: whether the video of the original Prop 8 trial should be released, and whether Judge Vaughn Walker's status as someone in a long-term same-sex relationship should have disqualified him from hearing the case.
The Oakland offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City bedeviled Mayor Jean Quan in the final three months of 2011. In late October, while Quan was out of town, police raided and dismantled the encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza. That night police and demonstrators clashed, and an Iraq War vet was critically injured by a police projectile. Protesters soon re-occupied the plaza, Michael Moore flew in, a general strike was called, the port was shut down, the encampment was disassembled a second time, the port was shut down again... Meanwhile, Quan's vacillation on just what to do about the protests seemed to please no one, and she now faces the threat of a recall as her approval rating has dropped precipitously.