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BUYBACK BUST

Lory Ambriz stepped up to the card table in the parking lot of the El Sereno Senior Citizen Center and plunked down two guns.

"Is it loaded?" a Hispanic LAPD officer asked, warily lifting a 9mm machine pistol from its case. Gun in hand, the cop slowly backed away, opened the chamber and peered in.

"Empty," he pronounced solemnly. After checking the other weapon — a Russian semiautomatic assault rifle with a collapsible bayonet — he asked Ambriz, an elderly Mexican-American, for his photo ID. At a second table, four more officers asked him for his address, phone number and Social Security number. A cheer went up as Ambriz approached four giddy preteen girls at the final table. They shook his hand and handed him $100 in small bills.

"Would you make a commitment to never buy a gun?" Samantha Diaz asked, giggling.

"Yes," Ambriz responded, smiling.

This was the none-too-threatening scene Saturday as the LAPD assisted in its second-ever gun buyback. It was just days after Buford O. Furrow Jr. allegedly shot up the Jewish Community Center 25 miles away in Granada Hills, and probably just months after the last street shooting in El Sereno. But you didn’t see anybody from 18th Street or Aryan Nation lining up with their AK-47s to collect $2,000 in rewards earned by middle school children selling chocolates.

No, the LAPD decided that anonymous gun buybacks, a success story in New York City and Washington, D.C., were too risky. So, unlike in the other cities, L.A. cops interrogated the buybackers before handing out the bounty. And who is willing to line up at 8 a.m. and flip their wallets for police for $100? Suffice it to say, it was hard to tell which were older, the owners or their weapons.

"We are seniors. We have nothing else to do," explained Delia Cordera, who was dropping off the shotgun her late husband left behind. "Hopefully we can get some cash."

"People are walking in here with guns from the days of Wyatt Earp," chortled Michael Andre, another buybacker.

Former midcity Stoners gang member Francisco Villa, the only person in line with hoodlum credentials, said his friends would never show up. "I think people are afraid that they are going to be arrested," said Villa, who turned in a semiautomatic pistol his 15-year-old brother bought off the street.

"What we have here are law-abiding citizens that are fearful of someone taking their gun," said El Sereno Middle School teacher Ernie Delgado, who coordinated the kids’ involvement. "We are not attracting the type of people that we would like."

By the end of the day, the trunk of an LAPD patrol car was filled with shotguns, hunting rifles, a World War II pistol and a German luger. Officer Bob Garcia said the weapons will remain in the property room for a year while the LAPD searches its records to see if the guns were used in any shootings; then they will be destroyed. OffBeat has one question: Do the records go back to WWII?

—Christine Pelisek

BANNER WATCH

 

Those ABC-TV advertising banners, the subject of a Weekly article last week, aren’t coming down anytime soon. That’s despite the fact that the city has acknowledged that the yellow-and-black bunting promoting the Disney-owned network’s fall season is patently illegal.

"There is a 30-day moratorium on the banners going up or down," says Public Works spokeswoman Cora Fossett. "It is out of our hands at Public Works. It is under the City Council’s jurisdiction to instruct us what to do."

So far, what the city has done in response to the banner scandal and years of other illegal ads — for everything from Rupert Murdoch’s Dodgers to the Cybernet World Fest — is to return ABC’s $46,000 fee, meaning that the vinyl-coated thespian close-ups are glaring at us free of charge. Meanwhile, the 30-day moratorium means that even banners carrying no sponsorship whatsoever, such as the ones slated for installation this week for the American Cancer Society, cannot go up.

"They’re making it hard on everyone else — hard, hard, hard," says Howard Furst, whose AAA Flag & Banner was paid more than $100,000 by ABC to install the commercial banners.

Things may get tougher still, now that the city’s street-use inspection division has come under intense scrutiny. Notice may be taken of yet another violation of the division’s own Street Banners General Rules and Regulations. Those rules say that "permits shall not be issued where the installation is within 50 feet of [an] intersection or within 50 feet of any midblock pedestrian crosswalk" and that banners "shall not be installed to obstruct traffic signs or warning devices." ABC-TV banners do both — all over town.

Take the crosswalk at First and Fairfax, one of the few neighborhood business districts with actual pedestrians. Despite the prohibition, Dharma & Greg festoon the lamppost directly above one end of the crosswalk. A bit farther south, at the perplexing intersection of San Vicente, Olympic and Fairfax, Camryn Manheim of The Practice provides the backdrop for one signal, while Susan Lucci, from All My Children, is at another. A half-block to the east, where Ogden Avenue dead-ends into Olympic, there is a midblock pedestrian crossing decorated, some 46 feet away, with ABC Sports, advertising the "brickyard 400."

Are offending banners ever removed? "Oh sure, all the time," Cora Fossett says. AAA’s Howard Furst, however, says he’s never had one taken away. Starting now, he probably will.

—Greg Goldin

POLICE SCIENCE

 

A Cambridge, Massachusetts, cop’s dopey contention that Mexican-Americans are resistant to pepper spray because of their supposed high chile intake brought to mind similar spoutings that have marked police history right here in L.A. In the 1980s, former Police Chief Daryl Gates asserted that African-Americans were dying from police chokeholds because their carotid arteries reopened more slowly than "normal" people’s. Four decades earlier, an L.A. Sheriff’s captain explained the arrest of 300 Mexican-American youths in connection with the Sleepy Lagoon murder case by saying that Hispanics love knives and bloodletting because of their Aztec heritage of human sacrifice. (Seventeen people were convicted of murder or assault, although the Sleepy Lagoon victim most likely died in a car crash; the case was later thrown out on appeal.)

The Cambridge P.D. later repudiated Officer Frank Gutoski’s statement, and a good thing, too, because we were already envisioning the repercussions here. A new injunction barring jalapeño consumption by gang members? School CURE programs (Chile Use Resistance Education — Dare To Keep Kids Off Chile) to try to get kids to kick pico de gallo and take up ketchup? New health-department ratings reductions for restaurants serving anything hotter than Pace picante? "We’re not scientists, we’re police officers," the Cambridge P.D. said in its retraction. No kidding. That’s worth remembering the next time any officer or politician spews racial theories to justify police misconduct.

—Bobbi Murray

RAGING RETRO

 

"Uhh, I guess this is a retrofest, so I better do a retro song, huh?" So former teen idol and prepube poster god Leif Garrett introduced his 1979 chart-topper "I Was Made for Dancing" with his new band, Godspeed, at Rhino Records’ First Annual RetroFest last weekend. The festival at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was a sort of nostalgia trade show featuring everyone from Linda Blair to June Lockhart. Batman Adam West and his first-ever TV adversary, the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), signed autographs in different parts of the building. West seemed somewhat dazed and certainly confused next to the Batmobile, while octogenarian Gorshin was cranky, refusing to "Riddle me" anything, or do impersonations, his stock-in-trade.

Onetime Tiger Beat poster boy Tony DeFranco, 39, looked like a golf pro as he stepped up with his two sisters, hip-hugger-wearing, Valley-divorcée types, to belt out "Heartbeat It’s a Lovebeat" — Ay caramba! Twenty years ago, Garrett was playing arenas; this weekend, a crowd of 125 watched him decked out in floppy Janis Joplin hat and baggy trousers, sporting a visible pot underneath his shirt. The band’s accompaniment may have been sloppy. (At one point, Garrett turned to startled drummer Brian Walsh and yelled, "Drum solo!," which completely baffled the stickman and left the band giggling like schoolgirls onstage.) And Garrett’s matinee-hunk appeal may have declined. But many of the girl-turned-woman fans screamed like it was 1979. One 40-plus rocker standing next to me had a different take: "I worked for 20 years to have a hit and never had one — if this is how it ends up, I’m glad I never had one."

—Johnny Angel