It's Friday night and Ryan (Red) Walker of Rancho Santa Margarita is faced with the same question that's on the minds of many South County foothill community teen-agers come the weekend: What's there to do?
"Nothing--not anywhere close," said the 17-year-old Trabuco Hills High School student, seated with a handful of his buddies at a table in front of a coffee shop in the Trabuco Hills Center.
The strip shopping center in northern Mission Viejo, nearly five miles from the heart of Rancho Santa Margarita, is the closest thing to night life for foothill community teen-agers who otherwise must drive even farther out of the area for entertainment.
Said 16-year-old Kendra Kofro, whose family moved to Rancho Santa Margarita six years ago: "The community is all based on young families and children." But for teen-agers, "there's nothing to do really. We were just in Longs (drugstore) deciding what to do. We'll probably just go to somebody's house or something."
Residents of South County's foothill communities--which include Rancho Santa Margarita, Coto de Caza, Dove Canyon, Portola Hills, Foothill Ranch and Robinson Ranch--may overwhelmingly view their area as a favorable place to live (82%, according to The Times Orange County Poll). But the same rural isolation that their parents relish is, for many teen-agers, the area's major drawback.
As Coto de Caza resident Bill Cowdrey, 34, put it: "I love it because there's nothing to do. It's peaceful, and that's why the kids don't like it."
"I think the problem of bored teen-agers is one that the suburbs have always struggled with," said Times pollster Mark Baldassare, a UC Irvine urban sociologist.
The problem, however, is given short shrift by foothill community adults. A scant 3% of poll respondents named the lack of activities for teens as the biggest problem facing their communities.
But while teen-agers may grumble about having nothing to do, their elders overwhelmingly view the South County foothill communities as an ideal place to raise children.
Indeed, the area is one that prides itself on being family-oriented, and there are numerous organized sporting activities for children--witness the nearly 3,000 foothill community parents and children who turned out at a Rancho Santa Margarita park on a recent Saturday morning for the opening day of Little League.
"It's a community that's set up for families," said Craig Lipus, 38, of Portola Hills, waiting for his 10-year-old son, Garrett, to parade by. "It's like everybody has two kids and either a Volvo wagon or a Suburban."
With a laugh, the father of three added: "I just bought a Suburban last night."
Are there many activities for younger children living in the 5,000-acre master-planned "urban village" of Rancho Santa Margarita?
"Scads," said Phyllis Spruill, a Rancho Santa Margarita mother of two young sons.
"Probably too much," added her husband, James, with a chuckle.
"I can't do it all," agreed his wife. "There are lots of opportunities for parents to get involved with their children. That's one of the assets I see out here."
Nearly nine in 10 poll respondents strongly agree the foothill communities are a good place to raise children. Residents are far more positive about the area's suitability for kids than people living in South County (56%) or North County (36%) are about their communities.
In line with that view, foothill community residents are much more likely than the rest of the county to be raising children. Fifty-four percent of households have children at home, compared to 43% countywide.
Living in a more rural community, added James Spruill, "gives you more of a sense of security than in larger cities."
About half of foothill community residents, according to the Times poll, are convinced that their neighborhoods are separate and distinct from the rest of the county and safe from crime and gangs.
Foothill community residents also are considerably more secure about their children's safety at school or in their neighborhoods than are residents countywide. Only 13% say they worry "a great deal" about their children becoming crime victims at school or in their neighborhoods. Countywide, 43% worry a lot.
Residents of the foothill communities have reason to feel more secure. They live in an area where crime, when it does occur, typically amounts to no more than residential and property crimes.
For "as many people (who) are living out there, the crime rate is really rather low," said Sheriff's Department Sgt. Larry Jones, who knows of no gangs in any of the foothill communities, and other than a few isolated incidents of graffiti, he is not aware of any problems with teen-agers.
That doesn't mean they don't get into mischief.