SUN CITY, Calif. — When the Sun City Civic Assn. revoked Lida Dietrich's civic center privileges last month for refusing to evict her 11-year-old granddaughter from her apartment, the 74-year-old widow decided, "I can live with that."
Under the association's bylaws, children are not allowed to take up permanent residence in the retirement community, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Dietrich then was warned to evict the child or face action from Riverside County for violating the county's 1978 Senior Citizen Development Zone ordinance, which says that at least one person in each Sun City household must be 50 years or older and that no one under 18 may reside in the community.
For Dietrich, who said she cannot afford a court battle against the county, the added threat has caused sleepless nights.
"Sometimes tears will start running down my face when I'm washing dishes," Dietrich said, "and my granddaughter will ask, 'What are you crying for, Grandma?' "
Trying not to cry, she added, "I tell her I'll take care of her no matter what."
On Thursday, Dietrich was contacted by American Civil Liberties Union attorneys.
"I told her we'd be very interested in the case if she wants to have our help," said Gregory Marshall, an ACLU attorney in San Diego. "She said that she would be interested in our assistance if and when she decides to fight this issue."
Dietrich said she took in the girl last October at the request of the girl's mother, Dietrich's former daughter-in-law. Dietrich's son, who supports a family of eight on a teacher's salary, lost custody of the girl, Lisa, during divorce proceedings when Lisa was 5, and he cannot afford to care for her, Dietrich said.
"She has no family and she clings to me," Dietrich said. "She needs a lot of love and attention and proper discipline."
Lisa is regarded as a model student at Perris Junior High School, where she made the honor role last semester.
"She gets nothing but good comments from her teachers," school principal Walter Otto said. "She is a sharp student and never in trouble. She's a neat girl."
Dietrich's problems with the civic association began last month, when neighbors complained about the girl living with Dietrich.
"We know how children should be treated and what they should be allowed to do," said Lois Terry, who reported the situation to the association and became concerned when she heard the child crying loudly on a few occasions.
After receiving the call, "we withdrew Dietrich's privileges card," said Dorothy Ossian, vice president of the association. "I have nothing against children . . . but everybody moved here because we had this bylaw."
"If we let one (child) in, we got to let a slug of them in," said Bert Walker, treasurer of the association. "If she wins, the town will go to hell."
Meanwhile, Dietrich, who moved to Sun City with her late husband, William, 12 years ago, contends that she could not move if she wanted to.
"I couldn't afford to move," she said. "If I can stay here, I can at least squeak by."