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The beginning of a new year is just hours away. Are you ready for it?

What can you say about a year like 2018? There’s never been one like it? Actually, there have been plenty of years of political and social change. But we all lived this one, so it is extraordinarily real — until the next year unwinds with its surprises and challenges.

Newspapers celebrate year’s end with a recap of the big events that happened in the last 12 months. We see no reason to break with tradition, so here goes:

The Associated Press, the service that supplies many of our national and international stories, has tabbed the Parkland, Fla., high school mass shooting as its top national story, not so much because of the carnage, which has become a new normal in America, but because students who survived the killing spree are fighting back using political means to force social change.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race is also high up on the AP’s list, as is the wave of MeToo sexual misconduct allegations and trials.

The Democrat surge in the mid-term congressional election made the list, as did the heated Senate hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Also making the AP’s most-read list are the California wildfires, which ranked high on our own list of important stories of 2018.

This year still has a few hours to go, and despite the arrival of winter, wildfires continue to plague this state. So far, more than 8,500 wildfires have scorched nearly 900,000 acres. At least 100 people were killed, with many still unaccounted for, and the Camp fire in Northern California became the deadliest in state history. If climate scientists are correct, the Camp fire’s record probably won’t last long.

The big fire-related question in 2019 is, will homeowners burned out in this year’s fire rebuild in the same vulnerable locations? Judging from past performances, the answer is they will.

As usual, Santa Barbara County had its share of front-page news. Perhaps the biggest story of 2018 was the legalization of marijuana for personal use, which set off a debate in local communities over how to regulate the growing and sales of marijuana. Another major marijuana-related story involved how local governments intend to manage the flow of tax revenues from this new industry.

The final resolution in the Marilyn Pharis murder case came with the life sentence handed down to the illegal immigrant convicted of her brutal slaying. There are no winners in such matters, but family members said it all — “Justice for Marilyn.”

Although it indirectly affected North County folks with transportation delays and economic impacts, the Thomas fire and subsequent mudslide that tore through Montecito’s midsection, killing nearly two dozen people, was one of our top stories, in large part because of its there-but-for-the-grace-of-God potential.

Other significant local headlines in 2018 involved the launch of the Mars InSight lander from Vandenberg Air Force Base, and the role so many local businesses and learning institutions played in the lander’s success. Allan Hancock College finally achieved the goal of being able to grant some four-year degrees, which is a giant leap forward for the school and for public and private-sector employers throughout North County.

Some very important headlines will carry over into the new year, including the continuing debate over the H-2A guest-worker housing dilemma, which is a microcosmic version of the affordable housing issue throughout Santa Barbara County.

Meanwhile, enjoy and be safe on New Year’s Eve.

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