Near-Brawl Disrupts Valencia Town Center Opening

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Barely five hours after Santa Claritans christened their new Valencia Town Center shopping mall Thursday, a near-brawl between two youth gangs erupted inside and spilled into the parking lot.

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, who rushed 10 units to the scene, arrested 13 people, including 10 juveniles.

Deputies characterized the incident as a verbal altercation that was about to become a physical one. One youth who allegedly brandished a baseball bat was charged with felony possession of a dangerous weapon. All others were charged with disturbing the peace, watch commander Lt. Robert Elson said Friday.

No one was hurt, authorities said, although Santa Clarita's civic pride clearly showed welts and scars.

City officials, together with sheriff's deputies and the mall's co-developer, Newhall Land & Farming Co., vowed Friday to crack down on lawlessness at the mall and to deal firmly with what they acknowledge is an increasing problem with gangs in the Santa Clarita Valley.

"We are not going to tolerate this kind of activity," Mayor Jill Klajic said. "We are prepared to take all individuals involved to full prosecution. We're not going to turn the other cheek."

At the Sheriff's Department station one block from the mall, Elson promised a "high-profile posture" of law enforcement.

"We're not going to allow the citizens of this valley to be terrorized by roving bands of young hoodlums," he said. "We don't want people to feel terrorized when they go to the mall."

Officials of both the city and the Sheriff's Department said they have augmented the Valencia Town Center's own security force by beefing up patrols by deputies in and around the mall.

At the same time, city officials pledged to strengthen community social programs aimed at controlling gang-related activity.

Santa Clarita's gang task force--composed of individuals from schools, social service groups, business, government and law enforcement--is seeking more participation from parents, City Manager George Caravalho said.

"This is a community problem and a parental supervision problem, not just a sheriff's problem or a school problem," he said.

Klajic agreed, saying that even after-school sports and other programs for Santa Clarita's youngsters may not be enough.

"Most of the gang members would probably prefer to have a job," she said. "Many don't have the money to participate in these programs--and their parents aren't available to be there as cheerleaders."

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