HERMOSA BEACH — A flap over the flying of 20 American flags on a used car lot has city officials seeing red and an auto dealer singing the blues.
The ongoing furor erupted when Barry Erlich, owner of Erlich's Sports Cars and Carriages, recently placed the profusion of banners on a wire fence surrounding his business.
Erlich, with the aplomb of a car salesman, insists that the flags are a memorial to Americans who died or were declared missing in action in Vietnam.
But city building official Janice Silver contends that the flags are primarily a means of attracting attention to the Aviation Boulevard business.
Erlich, she noted, had previously sought permission to place flags and pennants on his lot to advertise the business--but was turned down. So the American flags, she theorizes, are nothing more than an attempt to find a loophole in the city's rules.
This week, Silver sent Erlich a letter of complaint about both the flags and a large advertising banner attached to his office.
She also enclosed a copy of federal regulations regarding flags--which state that they should never be employed for advertising purposes.
"Please either abate or apply for approval of any unapproved signing," Silver wrote. And on Tuesday, she added that "we're still investigating (the flags) to see if they violate the law."
Erlich had not received the letter but said he was previously visited by a police officer who told him that building officials might try to have his business license revoked unless he takes the flags down.
While Silver claimed "it is tacky to advertise a used car business with flags," Erlich argued that the use of flags and pennants is a tradition in his line of business. In Manhattan Beach, for example, Bob Warren Pontiac features American flags waving from light standards on his lot. And in Redondo Beach, South Bay Datsun flies red, white and blue Datsun pennants and flags.
'I'm an American'
"I'm planning to leave them up, I'm an American," said Erlich, who has been in business for about nine months. "I told them it was for someone that was lost in Vietnam--I thought it would be patriotic."
Asked why he waited so long to display the standards--the war was over a decade ago--Erlich said: "Everybody's doing things for the Olympics."
But the Olympics were over last August, it was pointed out.
"Since the Olympics, everybody else has been doing things," he responded--unflappably.