SAN DIEGO — Hold the pepperoni. The great pizza-car caper appears to be over.
After months of squabbling, a compromise of sorts has been reached in the tussle between state lawmakers and a local pizza entrepreneur over his restaurant's delivery vehicles, which look like police squad cars.
Under the agreement, Daniel Crotta, owner of New York Pizza Department here, will be able to use his cars if they're repainted and modified so that they can't be confused with patrol cars used by the San Diego Police Department.
On Friday, the state Senate voted 36 to 0 to approve legislation that prohibits look-alike squad cars that are the same color as a local jurisdiction's patrol cars. The bill allows the use of light bars atop cars, but prohibits the use of blue, red or amber lights such as those on actual police cruisers.
"Everyone is happy," said Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista), who has shepherded the bill through the Legislature. "The San Diego police, the CHP, Crotta, everybody."
Although the legislation still has several steps to go before it reaches Gov. George Deukmejian's desk, Crotta said he is pleased with the progress that is being made and confident that his problem will soon be over.
"It's very encouraging," Crotta said Friday after hearing of the Senate vote. "I can't see any problems now. But, to be honest, I couldn't see any problems from the beginning."
Indeed, when Crotta first came up with the idea of the delivery vehicles dressed up as squad cars to go along with the law-enforcement motif of his restaurant, he thought it would be little more than a great advertising and promotional gimmick.
Not so. Soon after the restaurant's white car with distinctive "NYPD" insignia hit the streets late last year, San Diego police officials became concerned that it might be confused with their own squad cars. Police officials said they received complaints from confused citizens who saw the pizza car.
Eager for a solution, police asked state lawmakers to adopt legislation making it illegal to equip a car to look like a patrol vehicle.
Peace took up the cause, pushing the original bill through the Assembly in May. As written then, the legislation proposed making it illegal to equip non-police cars with light bars designed to resemble those on police vehicles, even if the lights do not work.
At that point, Crotta says he felt like a pizza-making David pitted against a very formidable Goliath.
Finally, all parties involved agreed to the changes, which allowed Crotta to keep the distinctive light bars atop his cars but required that he change the colors of the vehicles dramatically enough so that they cannot be mistaken for squad cars.
Crotta said he plans to paint the firm's fleet of three vehicles--the original one plus two more now on order--the same color as patrol cruisers used by New York police: bright blue with white doors and roof.