At first glance, some of the highs and lows of 2010 in the Bay Area -- from the sheer rapture of the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series to the unthinkable death and devastation of the San Bruno pipeline explosion -- could easily lend themselves to a best/worst Dickensian comparison.

Yet the bulk of notable news events during the past 12 months fits somewhere in between. While less dramatic, most were decidedly influential on our daily lives, from election outcomes and education cuts to painful layoffs and numerous high-profile court cases. So before we speed off into the 'tween years of the 21st century, let's give 2010 one last glance as it shrinks small in the rearview mirror of the past.

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Disaster on the Peninsula

A wall of fire sparked by a ruptured PG&E gas pipeline roared through a San Bruno neighborhood Sept. 9, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. The flames sent residents running for their lives and drew hundreds of emergency responders from around the Bay Area. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the blast, but it is not expected to determine a cause for as much as a year. The trauma of that night and the challenges of rebuilding have left many survivors unsure about whether to reconstruct their homes. However, some announced they would rebuild after PG&E agreed to reroute the pipe around the neighborhood.

Orange and black is back

In the vernacular of San Francisco Giants fans, the "torture" is over. The team of self-described freaks and misfits won its first World Series since the team moved to the West Coast in 1958, defeating the Texas Rangers in Game 5 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. We all rejoiced. San Francisco went wild with parties, a massive victory parade through downtown streets that swelled to hundreds of thousands of spectators, and photo ops with the Series trophy will continue for giddy orange-clad fans into the new year.

Also in sports: The Golden State Warriors got new owners, Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber, and a new coach, Keith Smart, and long-suffering fans felt hopeful once again; Oakland hasn't thrown in the rally towel on keeping the A's in town, voting to fund a study on a new stadium near Jack London Square; San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary was sacked after a pathetic season; and the Raiders stunk, then didn't for a while, then stunk again and didn't make the playoffs.

In the courtroom

While 2009 was a year scarred by several high-profile murders, kidnappings and rapes, 2010 followed them up in the courtroom with their more conventional consequences -- hearings, trials and sentencings.

In one case, public reaction was hardly mundane, however. In July, a jury convicted former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant III, an unarmed BART passenger, at the Fruitvale station in Oakland. In November, Mehserle was sentenced to two years in state prison. Both courtroom decisions brought vehement protests to downtown Oakland from those who felt the punishment was far too lenient. Each time, the demonstrations ended in broken store windows and dozens of arrests.

  • In June, Melissa Huckaby, 29, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for kidnapping and murdering 8-year-old Sandra Cantu of Tracy in 2009. Huckaby, a former Sunday school teacher and the mother of Sandra's playmate, accepted a plea deal that dropped sexual assault charges, avoiding a trial and the possibility of the death penalty.

  • Two years after a scarred and emaciated 16-year-old Kyle Ramirez ran into a Tracy gym begging for help, three people who pleaded guilty to holding him captive and abusing him were each sentenced to more than 30 years in prison: Michael Schumacher, 36; his wife, Kelly Lau, 32; and Kyle's former caretaker Caren Ramirez. Anthony Waiters, a neighbor, in November was convicted of abusing the boy. He is scheduled to be sentenced in mid-January; he is expected to receive life in prison.

  • Ongoing cases: The kidnapping and rape case against Phillip and Nancy Garrido, accused of abducting Jaycee Dugard from South Lake Tahoe in 1991 when she was 11 and holding her for 18 years in a backyard compound outside Antioch; Yusef Bey IV, the former leader of Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland, spent 2010 awaiting trial on triple murder charges, and got caught up in a suspected plot to kill witnesses in one of those cases, the slaying of journalist Chauncey Bailey; in December, six defendants were ordered to stand trial in the Richmond High School gang rape of a 16-year-old girl after a dance in 2009, while charges were dismissed against the youngest defendant.

    The recession is over?

    The NUMMI auto plant in Fremont closed in late March, leaving 4,700 employees, including 3,700 union workers, jobless. Toyota decided to close the plant after its partner, General Motors, abandoned it in bankruptcy. A few months later, electric carmaker Tesla struck a deal with Toyota to buy the plant and begin manufacturing cars there. More than 150 acres surrounding the plant is now on the market, while Fremont studies redevelopment options focused on making the site a business and manufacturing hub.

    Because of a severe budget crisis in Oakland, the Oakland Police Department laid off 80 officers in July; by the end of 2010, the department had lost at least 38 more officers through attrition, leaving a force of 658 -- down from more than 776 earlier in the year. While no more layoffs are predicted in the near future, the force may continue to shrink because of retirements and officers taking jobs at other agencies.

    Governor redux

    It's a second time around for Jerry Brown, California's former governor in the late '70s and early '80s. The former Oakland mayor in the early 2000s, state attorney general is now governor-elect again. In November's midterm elections, as Republicans snatched seats in Congress and governor's offices around the country, Brown was the nation's only Democratic gubernatorial pickup. He will be joined -- eventually -- by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was elected lieutenant governor. Newsom has postponed his swearing in while he ties up loose ends in San Francisco and awaits the selection of a replacement mayor.

    Jean who?

    Oakland's inaugural use of ranked-choice voting proved to be a giant-killer as hardworking City Councilmember Jean Quan overcame former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata to succeed Ron Dellums as Oakland's mayor. She will be sworn in Monday, becoming the city's first woman and first Asian mayor.

    Other firsts in local and state offices: In June, Nancy O'Malley was elected as Alameda County's first female district attorney; in November, Kamala Harris narrowly won the state attorney general's race and will become the first woman and first African-American to hold that position; and Victoria Kolakowski, elected as an Alameda County Superior Court judge, became the first transgender trial judge in the nation.

    A bittersweet homecoming

    Because of health problems, Sarah Shourd was released on bail in September after more than a year of imprisonment in Iran on charges of spying. She returned to the United States, but her fiance, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal remain behind bars. The UC Berkeley graduates were arrested by Iranian authorities in 2009 while hiking near the border with Iraq. Their day in court has been tentatively scheduled for February.

    Protests

    College and university students around the state rallied en masse March 4 to protest steadily rising tuition and budget cuts at the University of California and California State University systems. Community college students also protested cuts that have left many unable to enroll in required classes. A group of about 200 protesters broke off from the day of peaceful demonstrations, climbed onto Interstate 880 and blocked traffic for several hours.

    A taxing year

    2010 was a year of tax measures. From San Leandro to Fremont, voters approved a flurry of tax and bond measures in November expected to preserve key services and pay for new school facilities. Fremont voters passed the city's first parcel tax to support local schools, and Newark voters passed a tax on utility bills. Union City and San Leandro voters both supported sales-tax rate increases, while San Leandro and Tri-City voters approved facility bonds for the San Leandro Unified School District and the Ohlone Community College District. Oakland voters passed a measure to reestablish a previously approved tax to support police services, but rejected a $360 per-parcel tax to bring back some of the 80 laid-off officers.

    Staff writers Matthew Artz, Sophia Kazmi, Matt Krupnick, Sean Maher, Joshua Melvin, Thomas Peele and Josh Richman contributed to this report.