McALLEN — In early November, police Officer Frank Garcia found himself standing outside McAllen Municipal Court holding a ticket.
Code Compliance had ticketed Garcia after spotting his ad-covered Toyota Scion iQ — a vinyl ad wrap promoting Gold’s Gym covers the pint-sized car, which also sports smaller ads promoting four other businesses — parked outside an apartment complex on North 23rd Street. McAllen’s sign ordinance forbids parking a car “where the main purpose of parking is for advertising.”
McAllen also ticketed Gold’s Gym for off-premise advertising. The tickets irked Garcia, who regularly drives the car.
“Everywhere I go, I’m worried,” Garcia said. “If I go and eat at Whataburger, am I going to get a ticket? If I go to the movies, will I get a ticket?”
With businesses across McAllen increasingly using ad-wrapped cars for self-promotion, Garcia’s legal battle with Code Compliance could have wide-reaching consequences. That Garcia works for the Police Department and disagrees with McAllen’s enforcement of the sign ordinance adds another awkward wrinkle.
McAllen’s case against Garcia looks straightforward.
The sign ordinance prohibits both off-premise and portable signs, along with parking for the purpose of advertising. Courts have long recognized reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner of speech, especially advertising.
Cars used strictly for official purposes aren’t considered off-premise, said Deputy City Attorney Ignacio Perez, because they’re conducting company business. The same car, though, could run afoul of the ordinance depending on the situation.
For example, Illuminations, the lighting company located at 4801 N. 10th St., has an ad-wrapped smartcar. When parked out front or driving on official business, the smartcar doesn’t violate McAllen’s sign ordinance. Less clear is whether Code Compliance could ticket Illuminations for parking the smartcar across two parking spots facing North 10th Street, which could be construed as parking for the primary purpose of advertising.
It’s also unclear how McAllen would handle a zealous Dallas Cowboys fan who wrapped his truck with the team’s name and logo. Technically, Code Compliance could ticket the driver and the Dallas Cowboys under multiple provisions of the sign ordinance.
“It is a gray area. It’s definitely a gray area,” Perez said. “The only way we could find out if it would fly or not is for somebody, in this case the city, to issue a citation and take it to court.”
It’s an awkward dispute for Garcia, a by-the-book officer who joined the Police Department eight years ago. Garcia generally keeps a low profile, but briefly gained notoriety several years ago after arresting former Mayor Leo Montalvo for driving while intoxicated.
In addition to working for the Police Department, the 35-year-old Edinburg resident works as a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym and runs a car-ad company called EyeZoom Promotions.
Businesses pay EyeZoom, which owns five black Scion iQs, to promote their products and services, Garcia said, adding that his wife owns the company. (They’re both listed as managing members on incorporation paperwork.)
“Basically, what a billboard does — that’s what we do,” Garcia said.
EyeZoom’s drivers use the ad-wrapped cars as their day-to-day vehicles, Garcia said, and aren’t parking them primarily to advertise.
The issue first surfaced when Code Compliance ticketed Garcia on Oct. 23 after spotting the ad-wrapped car. A friend borrowed the Scion iQ after having car trouble and parked the ad-wrapped car outside his apartment, Garcia said, adding that the main purpose wasn’t to advertise.
“But I think the bigger issue is whether the McAllen ordinance complies with both the Texas and U.S. Constitution,” said Keith Livesay, an attorney who represents Garcia.
Dave Hendricks covers McAllen and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at email@example.com and (956) 683-4452.
Follow Dave Hendricks on Twitter: @dmhj