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Valley Perspective

Good News: Things Went Right

February 18, 2001

People, like newspapers, sometimes seem to focus more on what went wrong than what went right. Or at least we do in a city as vast as Los Angeles, where so many things can and often do go wrong.

But occasionally there's a week when tired mistakes don't get repeated, when seemingly intractable problems actually do get solved. Such examples hold out hope--and inevitably a lesson. Consider two:

* It's a time of day every big-city school principal fears. School had just ended and 2,800 teenagers rushed out the doors en masse. Some were heading home, others to athletic fields for sports practice. Some were just hanging out. Principals view times when students are milling about as particularly vulnerable. Anything can happen. At Cleveland High School in Reseda earlier this month, it did.

Los Angeles Unified School District policeman Shane Stewart first spotted a group of young men brawling. Then he heard shots. He rushed into the middle of Vanalden Avenue, aimed his gun and shouted, "Police! Freeze!" But he did not fire.

There were too many kids around, too many ways a bullet could ricochet, too many things that could go wrong.

Stewart's quick response broke up the fight. His restraint kept it from escalating. A 17-year-old student was shot in the hip and forearm and another 17-year-old boy had head injuries from being hit in the head with a blunt object. But both will recover. And it could have gotten much worse.

With Stewart's help, police arrested three suspected gang members.

Too often we hear about what law enforcement officers did wrong. Stewart's courage and judgment were exactly right. And his heroism that day called attention to the small acts he does every day as he meets and greets kids on campus, doing as much counseling as policing. This kind of preventive work isn't flashy, but it's community policing at its best.

* Commuters who have groaned about the lack of parking at the North Hollywood subway station got some relief last week when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority opened a new, 186-space lot just west of the station. It's a temporary solution and one that admittedly has alarmed preservationists who want to see the 2.67-acre parcel turned into a park honoring an old train depot on the site.

The 1896 depot now stands empty and boarded-up. Ideas for renovating it include turning it into a railway museum with a model railroad. But that can still be done down the road, once the MTA builds a planned multistory parking structure on the site of the main parking lot.

In the meantime, providing some immediate relief for frustrated commuters helps ensure that the subway retains its surprisingly high ridership numbers. It keeps the new subway station from becoming a relic before its time. It's an impartial and imperfect solution--but, given the paralysis that so often derails a search for the perfect answer--it's good enough for now.

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