Washed-Out Ads

Take Metrolink and beat El Ni & #324;o! That was the message being delivered in radio spots airing last week on KNX-AM 1070.

Then El Ni & #324;o struck. El Ni & #324;o-driven rains washed out railroad tracks in Newhall, Camarillo and Oxnard. And in southern Orange County, service was suspended at three stations because of the rains. Rail service on some routes wasn't expected to resume until this week.

Metrolink spokesman Peter Hidalgo said officials decided not to pull the radio spots last Monday because only one route was affected, but they did decide to pull the ads Tuesday in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.

Problem was, the ads were on a "prerecorded rotation," so it took a couple of days to stop running them, Hidalgo said.

As a result, ads urging commuters to avoid El Ni & #324;o hassles by riding Metrolink were still airing Wednesday, even as several Metrolink routes were washed out.

The ads were to be yanked as of Thursday, and then begin airing again today, March 2.

All Wet?

Restaurateur Gabriella Rossi seems to be trying to milk as much mileage as she can out of that pesky global weather phenomenon.

First, she chose "El Ni & #324;o" as the name for her new Santa Monica restaurant. Next, perhaps trying to create a bit of lore around the eatery, Rossi said that the season's first actual El Ni & #324;o-driven rains to hit L.A. happened on Jan. 24, the very day her restaurant opened.

Yet the L.A. precipitation level on Jan. 24 was 0.00 inches.

County Crackdown

The L.A. County Department of Health Services struck again last week, announcing that it had shut down two very high-profile West Hollywood food establishments: Spago and the House of Blues.

It seems, however, the announcement may have been misleading.

In the case of Spago, the Health Department said it was closed for two days (Feb. 12 through Feb. 14) due to a "vermin infestation" and "prevention of entrance and harborage of vermin."

But Spago controller Sabrina Palmershein insists the restaurant itself was never closed.

"With all the rain, we had a ceiling cave-in and cracks in our walls in our wine cellar, which was promptly closed when the Health Department inspectors came around. We had no insects or vermin actually in the wine cellar or anywhere else for that matter. The fear was that, with the wine cellar exposed, some could get in," Palmershein said. "I and several of our staff worked for two days to repair the damage to get the cellar reopened within the 48 hours before the reinspection."

At the House of Blues, county health inspectors came by Feb. 18 and found a single roach by the back door, said Joe Marcus, vice president of food and beverage.

"They closed down one dish-stand at the rear of the kitchen for 22 hours while we worked to fill in a small hole in a pipe leading to the building," said Marcus. "No part of the restaurant was ever closed."

Wanted: Dog-Hazing Video

Remember "Becker vs. American Airlines?"

That's the case in which Marcelle Becker, widow of insurance magnate Martin Becker, is alleging she got into an altercation during an American Airlines Inc. flight on July 6, 1995. Becker is accusing the captain and crew of tying her up with a dog leash and agitating her purebred Maltese, named Dom Perignon, to the point that the dog later died from stress.

The trial was slated to begin last week, but alas, it has been further postponed, until Sept. 15, because of a clogged court system.

Meantime, Becker is hoping to find a videotape of the incident.

Brian Cowan of Edward Lozzi & Associates, a Beverly Hills-based public relations firm representing Becker, said the Westside widow remembers seeing passengers carrying video cameras onto the flight, and is hoping one of them taped the incident.

"She's going to be offering a very large reward and you can quote me on that," Cowan said. He added that he did not know how large the reward will be, but "it'll be enough to take a vacation on, with the whole family, I'm sure."

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