Attempts to return an infamous car-turned-cactus-planter to Planet K has failed at three court levels over the past six years, but manager Joe Ptak is continuing his battle against the city’s junk car ordinance.
Ralph the cactus planter was removed in 2010 because it was in violation of the San Marcos junk vehicle ordinance. Planet K has lost cases against the city in the San Marcos Municipal Court, Federal District Court and Federal Circuit Court of Appeals dating back to 2007. Ptak suffered another legal defeat in February when the San Marcos City Council confirmed Ptak’s petition to amend the junk vehicle ordinance had failed.
Ptak gathered 6,849 signatures for the petition in November, but a majority of the signatures were counted as invalid by the city, falling short of the necessary qualifications. Hundreds of signatures were invalid because they were too old or the signers were not registered to vote in San Marcos. Ptak plans to start another petition in the near future.
Councilman Jude Prather, Place 2, said he supported Planet K’s cause as a citizen in 2008 and, as an elected official, voted in favor of the store in 2010 and 2011.
Ptak said the junk car ordinance obstructs local businesses’ freedom of expression and could hinder attraction of customers. He believes local government restrictions on businesses contradict their statements of support and is disappointed the city has restricted Planet K’s artistic expression.
Ralph is not a typical junk 1988 Oldsmobile. The cactus planter is covered with paintings by local artists Scott Wade and John ‘Furly’ Travis. Ralph is a celebration of San Marcos art and culture and is a cause worth fighting for, Ptak said.
“It’s an insult that they don’t allow (Ralph) to be displayed here,” Ptak said. “We’re going to do whatever we can until we can finally bring Ralph home.”
Ralph is now located at the Planet K on Stassney Lane in South Austin. It is one example of multiple junk vehicles converted into art in the city. The converted junk vehicles are recognized in Austin as art under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990.
City Attorney Michael Cosentino said the San Marcos junk car ordinance would become unenforceable if it were amended to allow vehicles like Ralph to be classified as art. An amended ordinance would give all residences and businesses the freedom to have a junk vehicle on their property as long as it had an artistic message.
No one is denying that artistic work was applied to Ralph, Cosentino said. However, Ralph was still subject to enforcement of the ordinance because it was smashed first and turned into a junk vehicle before any art was applied.
“There’s a bigger picture that’s there,” Cosentino said. “It’s not about one store at one location. It’s about letting everybody do the same thing, and is that what we really want the town to look like?”