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Youths Struggle in Land of Many Rules : Antelope Valley: Teen-agers seek diversions in area that offers few.


LANCASTER — When the master planners of the Antelope Valley set out to transform a dusty expanse of high desert scrub into what would become Los Angeles County's fastest-growing suburb, they imposed a precise grid of lettered avenues and numbered streets on the landscape.

Housing developments, small businesses, light industry and strip malls fit perfectly into that grid, appealing to the need for order among those who flocked there in the 1950s for aerospace jobs and then in the 1980s in search of affordable housing and relief from urban ills "down below," in Los Angeles.

Now, the larger communities of the Antelope Valley--Lancaster and Palmdale--are trying much the same technique on their young people.

Teen-agers here must live by the rules:

* High school students must submit to periodic, unannounced inspections of their book bags by drug-sniffing dogs.

* At the local mall, groups of more than three teen-agers are not allowed to congregate. Anyone wearing a backward baseball cap is told to turn the brim forward or leave.

* Students caught in truancy raids must sit through lectures at a counseling center run by a former sheriff's deputy who is a preacher at a local fundamentalist church.

* Violations of the 10-p.m.-to-6-a.m. Lancaster curfew can bring a fine of up to $700 and/or six months in jail.

With these and other rules as their artillery, Antelope Valley officialdom has declared war on juvenile dissoluteness.

Not only did they instruct law enforcement and school officials to clamp down, they encouraged students to join their cause, first offering $25 rewards for tips on weapons and drugs, then upping the ante to as much as $1,000 for information on taggers and vandals.

"I'm convinced that in many places in the (San Fernando Valley) and Los Angeles, they truly have given up, and we are committed to not giving up," said Lancaster City Councilman George Runner, who spearheaded many of the council's curfew and anti-graffiti regulations as part of his mission to make teens act responsibly.

Runner is also the head of a local private Christian school.

"We're doing this so they don't grow up and become out of control," he said.

But in the rush to conquer the desert and their youngsters, the adults of the Antelope Valley seem to have forgotten that teen-agers don't take kindly to grids, the youths say. The teens complain they have been supplied with plenty of rules, but not many options for a Saturday night.

"There's not much to do in Lancaster. It's just the same thing over and over," said 17-year-old Tina Marie Lerma. "Usually on weekends, if I don't go down below, I just stay in my house. Most of the time we don't end up doing anything."

In this valley, population 330,000, teen hangouts are scarce: one coffeehouse, one club that occasionally features local punk bands, a restaurant that turns into a disco two school nights a week and assorted fast-food parking lots.

An hour's drive away, down below, are the clubs, funky discos, hip eateries and trendy clothing stores teens covet--the places pumped into their TV sets 24 hours a day on MTV, the places they see on the music channel's series about teen life, "The Real World."

But MTV didn't come to the high desert to film "The Real World," and even though the Antelope Valley is in the same county, the "real world" might as well be on another planet.

Adults in the Antelope Valley have taken groundbreaking steps to keep it that way. In the view of many young people, Antelope Valley officials and fundamentalist preachers--often one and the same in these communities--are embarked on a kind of Children's crusade, leaving their kids in the high desert with nothing to do, nowhere to do it and plenty of God-fearing rules to abide.

"It is overly conservative Christians--almost to the point of fanatical Christians. . . . They are imposing their values on everyone else," said La Dawn Best, 17, a senior at Quartz Hill High School.

"Everyone's just trying to classify our whole generation as the generation that's going nowhere and that has no values and that's not doing anything," La Dawn said. "They're treating the whole student body as criminals, even though most of them aren't."

Even the mayor of Lancaster thinks officials might have gone too far.

"This is a highly Republican, ultra-right community for the most part, and those are the parents who think we have to crack down on kids and crack down on everything," said Mayor Larry C. Roberts.

Still, the day before he made this statement in an interview, the mayor joined his conservative Christian counterparts on the City Council in a vote to stiffen fines against the parents of youngsters who violate juvenile curfew and anti-graffiti laws.

"I'm pretty certain that that's not the most popular thing we just did among young people and it does seem a bit harsh," he said. "Jeez, when I was a kid, I can't even tell you the things I'd do. . . . I can't remember that I would ever get in before 10 o'clock."

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