The New York Pizza Department of San Diego

A couple months ago, the guys at Geek Squad got into trouble because the CHP thought that the Squad’s black and white Beetles looked too much like police cars. Sure, it’s another silly incident that disguises another case of runaway copyrighting (note the CHP spokesman line about “protecting our unique color scheme”), but it reminds me of another story…

Back in the late 1970s there was a San Diego-based pizza parlor called The New York Pizza Department. Nothing particular special or remarkable about the place – I was only there once and I remember the old pictures of NYC on the wall more than the pizza. However, one day the owner thought that it would be clever to use an old black-and-white police cruiser as a delivery car – complete with “N.Y.P.D.” and a pizza-themed city seal on the sides. It was a cool gimmick and I felt bad when the San Diego police killed it but the NY Pizza Department put up enough of a fight for it to become a regional news item all over Southern California.

Nothing on Google yet, but I’m sure someone else Out There will remember the place.

25 June 2020 update: found an article about the N.Y.P.D. pizza cars. The story is from 1986 and not the 70s as I was thinking.

It’s No Lights for N.Y.P.D. Pizza Cars Under Assembly Bill
by Kenneth F. Bunting
MAY 30, 1986

SACRAMENTO — The Assembly on Thursday narrowly reaffirmed its approval of a bill intended to get a San Diego-based pizza chain’s police car look-alike delivery vehicles off the streets.

After passing comfortably in a 51-8 vote Wednesday, the bill by Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista) squeaked by with a bare majority in the 81-member Assembly Thursday and was sent to the Senate.

The final vote, which came on a second roll call, was 42-29. To win passage, Peace had to persuade three Assembly members to change their votes, and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) had to delay proceedings for more than seven minutes while legislators attending a budget conference committee on the other side of the Capitol were summoned to the Assembly chamber to vote.

The bill, which Peace introduced at the request of the San Diego City Council, would make it illegal to equip non-police cars with light bars designed to resemble those on police vehicles–even if the lights do not work.

It is aimed at the New York Pizza Department (N.Y.P.D.) restaurant on Friars Road in Mission Valley, which began using a police motif as a marketing gimmick last year. Restaurant owner Daniel Crotta, who says he wants to expand into a national chain, has two other outlets under construction in San Diego and one each in Studio City and South Pasadena.

San Diego police officials have complained that Crotta’s delivery vehicles, with their N.Y.P.D. markings and fake light bars, look too much like their patrol cars.

Peace’s bill had garnered little attention when it passed the Assembly on Wednesday. But Thursday’s initial 32-30 vote–nine short of the 41 votes needed for approval–followed a spirited debate during which lawmakers denounced it as an unnecessary attack on free enterprise and business ingenuity.

“Mr. Peace is doing what the City of San Diego asked him to do, but I think he is clearly overreacting,” said Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego). “This guy (Crotta) has white cars with N.Y.P.D. on the side, and every time I drive by, I make sure I slow down to the speed limit.

“It gives me a great sense of security to know that the New York Police Department has a surplus of staff cars that can come out and protect the people of San Diego,” Stirling joked.

Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Hawthorne), who forced Thursday’s reconsideration vote after inadvertently voting in favor of the bill Wednesday, said he wished Crotta’s N.Y.P.D. delivery cars “could drive up and down the street in front of my apartment. Maybe the guy that’s stealing my TV sets would pay attention and mistake him for a cop.”

But Assemblyman Robert C. Frazee (R-Carlsbad) said Peace’s bill is an important measure needed to avoid the proliferation of police car look-alikes.

“I don’t think anyone has to think too far to know what the problem would be if two-thirds of the vehicles on the street were black and white and looked like police cars,” said Frazee.

Peace said his bill is “a very serious piece of legislation.” He said there had been five reported incidents in San Diego in which the pizza delivery cars had been mistaken for patrol cars.

“We all like to joke about pizza and such,” Peace said. But “understand that you have human beings who are put in a situation where their lives are in danger because of a glitch in current law.”

The San Diego County delegation split on the issue. Besides Peace, it was supported by Assemblywoman Lucy Killea (D-San Diego) and Assemblymen Peter Chacon (D-San Diego) and Frazee; while Assemblyman Bill Bradley (R-San Marcos) and Assemblywoman Sunny Mojonnier (R-Encinitas) opposed it.

Stirling, who spoke against and initially voted against the bill, switched his vote after Peace gathered up enough votes to pass the bill. Stirling said the switch was “a courtesy” because Peace, “who is a friend” promised to discuss future amendments with both him and Crotta while the bill makes it way through the Senate.

Author: Chris Barrus

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