The Salinas Californian this morning says, “from a full year of front pages, it’s not easy to pick the events and issues with the most dramatic, sweeping or long-lasting impact for the readers we serve — but it’s always enlightening to try.”
For one thing, 12 months of headlines have a tendency to blur together. Some important milestones may be forgotten as we race — eagerly or not — into a New Year.
From the article:

Thus, as we have for the past four years, the staff at The Salinas Californian has identified the biggest stories of 2004 for Salinas and Monterey County. This year’s selections certainly reflect the many challenges facing the Salinas area in staying safe, providing basic services, managing growth and generally coping with life’s unpredictability.

This list of the top 20 local news stories is far from scientific, and it’s certainly subjective. They are in roughly chronological order and are not ranked by importance:
E. Coli deaths tied back to Salinas Valley produce
Three California Department of Health Services reports released in 2004 tied Salinas produce to three major bacterial outbreaks — and raised questions about how state regulators communicate with growers about potentially deadly problems.
The outbreaks, all involving the most dangerous form of the bacteria E. coli, killed one elderly woman and sickened 113 others between July 2002 and October 2003.
Lettuce and spinach grown in Salinas were identified in the reports as the likely cause of the outbreaks, although investigators have been unable to pinpoint what caused the contamination somewhere between planting and consumption.
In a communication breakdown, Monterey County officials and local agricultural leaders failed to learn about any of the three outbreaks until April 2004.
Local growers, shippers and produce suppliers stressed that the inconclusive findings provide an opportunity to improve upon already stringent industry-initiated “good agricultural practice” guidelines.
Grower-Shipper Association of Central California president Jim Bogart said Thursday that county officials and ag leaders have been meeting with state regulators since they learned about the reports to improve the information exchange.
“We’ve made progress, but we are not at the final destination yet by any means,” Bogart said.