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AROUND THE SOUTH BAY

New mayor is showing the sober side of his bad-boy image.

August 11, 1994

MEET THE MAYOR: He seems more likely to be voted class clown, but this week Robert (Burgie) Benz, the beer-guzzling Hermosa Beach councilman who once exploded a cockroach and goldfish in a microwave oven on his local cable TV show, became the city's mayor.

"I want everybody up here to tell me when I get a little bit out of control because I've been known to do that," Benz said after a low-key ceremony at Tuesday's council meeting that was punctuated by only a single "whoop" from someone in the audience.

Benz, a self-employed engineer who is decidedly anti-government in his politics, was due for the mayor's position based on the council's rotation of seats.

The 37-year-old Benz has gained bad-boy celebrity status for his participation in the annual Fourth of July Ironman competition, a running, paddling and beer-chugging extravaganza that inevitably ends in mass upchucking. Despite his reputation, Benz's behavior at council meetings has been a bit more sober.

"I think the city is very lucky to have him," Benz's father, Donald L. Benz, said after his son was inaugurated as mayor. Benz's parents made a trip to Hermosa Beach from Portland, Ore., to attend the meeting.

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BUREAUCRATIC BARGAINS: For sale: Your own piece of Torrance.

Style-minded local joggers soon could be sporting spiffy Torrance police T-shirts. The latest home decorating rage may be a Torrance water meter, artfully placed on a coffee table or sideboard.

City officials want to launch a city store to market used meters, street signs and traffic signals as well as a puzzle featuring a map of Torrance and even a Torrance board game. And, compliments of city engineers, residents may also be able to buy aerial photos of the streets on which they live.

The store would promote civic pride, said Felice N. Fromm, who is heading a committee that is trying to get the idea off the ground. "There's a lot of reasons why we would have one."

Not the least of which is raising more money for the city. The city of San Diego got its $12,000 investment back two months after it opened its store in 1991, officials said in a recent report to the City Council.

"It's not a new concept," Fromm said.

Her committee wants the store to open before Thanksgiving, in time for the holiday shopping season. Still, a few hurdles remain, such as finding a spot with cheap rent. For instance, the city of West Covina's City Haul store gets discount rent at a local mall, helping it survive.

The Torrance City Council "liked the idea, but they don't want to spend any money," Fromm said. Estimated start-up costs are $15,000 to $50,000.

No word yet on the availability of T-shirts decorated with the faces of Torrance's seven council members.

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SORRY, WRONG NUMBER, SORRY, WRONG NUMBER . . . : Teri Thomas of El Segundo says sharing a phone number with the O.J. Simpson hot line has been an interesting and educational experience.

True, she and her husband and children are a little tired of the phone ringing all day. On the other hand, she's become a sort of minor celebrity, featured on dozens of radio, TV news and talk shows around the world.

"It's been a unique experience," says the 39-year-old housewife and mother. "It has put me in touch with a lot of different people."

It all started when Simpson's lawyers set up a toll-free 800 number for tips in the Simpson case. But the number, (800) 322-3632, was just an area code away from Thomas' home phone number.

Within 24 hours after the hot line was set up, Thomas received more than 200 calls from people who either couldn't get through on the Simpson 800 number or didn't understand the 800 number concept and simply dialed a Los Angeles area code and then the seven-digit number. The calls ranged from tipsters to people who had written songs in defense of Simpson.

The volume of calls has slacked off some, Thomas says. Now she only gets about two Simpson calls an hour.

"It's not as bad as it was," Thomas says. "We still have to turn the ringers off the phone at night, and my answering machine has gone through 10 years service in the past couple weeks. But I've done about 40 interviews with radio stations all over the U.S. I was on the 'Rolanda' (TV talk) show. . . .

"I've talked to people from every state except Alaska and Hawaii. I even got a call from the Virgin Islands and one from London. It's pretty amazing. . . .

"But I'll be glad when it's over."

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