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PLATFORM : Shut Out at a Presidential Event

DARIN ESPER <i> is a free-lance journalist</i>

DARIN ESPER is a free-lance journalist. He told The Times:

I went to see the President last week. But instead of being among the 10,000 people who heard Bill Clinton mark the first anniversary of the Northridge earthquake, I was among at least 1,000 who sat on a grassy knoll several feet yards away and fumed.

It seems the Los Angeles city fire marshal shut the gate to the restricted area near the library. At least that is what various law enforcement personnel claimed as the gate was closed.

Among those left out in the cold were 140 elementary school students from the El Oro Way School in Granada Hills, an area hit hard by the quake.

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Principal Juanita Manning said she got a telephone invitation to the event on the preceding Friday. The school dipped into its meager field-trip fund, raised mostly by kids’ sales of gift-wrapping, to get bused to CSUN.

Those turned away were invited to sit on the knoll and listen, but we were too far away to hear anything and faces on the platform were tiny dots. I heard mostly little voices near me saying things like, “Gosh, we came here for nothing.”

Who goofed?

Not being a talk show host, I can’t blame the President.

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How about the university? It printed tickets for the event, then distributed them free to students by hanging them in envelopes on the student union door. That’s where I got mine. Tickets didn’t seem to matter on the fateful morning, however, as plenty of non-ticket holders, non-students and non-guests of students were admitted.

The security forces? Everybody had to pass through a metal detector, so there had to be a fairly big surrounding area where most of the spectators stood. I’d think it would have been safer if the area had been bigger, since outsiders would have been farther away. In any event, there seemed to be plenty of room for more people to stand inside the restricted area.

Was there a larger crowd than anticipated? Did anyone check with fire officials on how many people could safely assemble in the area? And how many tickets were distributed?

Was it really the fire marshal’s decision that closed the gates? If so, it worked. I didn’t see one muddy divot or metal chair burst into flames.

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Of course, I was pretty far away.


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