Only in Simi Valley, perhaps, could a city official invoke Rodney G. King's name in a letter to Ronald McDonald.
Planning Commissioner Bill Souder, in an Oct. 6 letter urging McDonald's to revamp a restaurant sign, referred to King and the unflattering publicity that a trial stemming from his beating brought to Simi Valley.
But after the note triggered alarm bells at Simi Valley City Hall, Souder apologized publicly, saying he shouldn't have used his city title to beef up his Big Mac attack.
Souder acknowledged Tuesday that the uproar has left him with, well, Egg McMuffin on his face. "I thought this might get a response," he said of the letter. "Obviously it did. But not what I was looking for."
In the letter, Souder told McDonald's Corp. that 1,000 neighbors may protest if it places a 25-foot sign next to a restaurant that it is building at Yosemite Avenue and the Simi Valley Freeway. Souder warned that angry residents will steer McDonald's customers to a nearby In-N-Out Burger.
The commissioner said the fast-food flap could give McDonald's a blemish as bad as the one Simi Valley received after the Rodney G. King beating trial.
In his letter, Souder identified himself as a planning commissioner, causing McDonald's to wonder why the city was lambasting a project that it had already approved.
Concerned about the confusion and a possible lawsuit, Simi Valley officials quickly scolded Souder and told McDonald's that the commissioner was not speaking for the city.
Souder in turn apologized to the City Council at Monday's meeting.
Souder, a 47-year-old engineer who often fires off written complaints to the makers of faulty products, joined other northeast Simi Valley residents last year in a group called Citizens for a Safe and Scenic Simi Valley, formed to oppose the McDonald's project. The group believes that the restaurant will scar the hillside area and create traffic, crime and noise problems.
When Councilman Michael W. Piper nominated him for a Planning Commission vacancy in March, Souder left the neighborhood organization.
But he still objects to the restaurant. In his letter, he told McDonald's that its proposed freeway sign, greeting westbound motorists entering Simi Valley, will spoil the city's image.
He added, "You are likely familiar with the negative publicity that Simi Valley received from the Rodney King trial. Consider the impact to the McDonald corporate image when 1,000 neighbors . . . picket and boycott your restaurant upon its opening.
"Signs will direct traffic to the In-and-Out Burger at the next exit west."
Souder said Tuesday, "The letter was just an irate citizen writing a letter. It was exaggerated for dramatic effect. Tying it to my Planning Commission position was inappropriate."
Sandra Ayers, the McDonald's real estate executive who received the letter, said she was pleased that Souder has apologized. She said the fast-food restaurant will be "a good neighbor" in Simi Valley but does not plan to withdraw the freeway sign.
At Monday's council meeting, mayoral candidate Steve Frank was one of two speakers who urged that Souder be removed from the Planning Commission. "He's embarrassed the city," Frank said. "It made the city look anti-business."
But all five council members said they accepted Souder's apology and did not want to oust him.
"Yes, Bill made a mistake. No doubt about it," Piper said. But he added, "There is no one more suitable (for the commission). Bill is staying."
Souder's commission term, however, will expire when Piper leaves office late next month. Souder said he may have spoiled his chances to be reappointed by Piper's successor.
"I'd have to say I'm very naive politically, based on this experience," Souder said. "The thing that hurts me the most is that I may have lost the ability to continue" on the commission.