WALLA WALLA -- Inland Octopus' 550-square-foot sign or mural -- which it is depends on whom you ask -- whose purple octopus has come to embody a fight against the tentacles of City Hall, got squeezed out of any hope that City Council would intervene to rescue the artwork.
After hearing 27 people give public testimony at a City Council workshop on Monday, all but one in favor of keeping the enormous octopus that resides above the Main Street toy store, Council members agreed to not take any action and let staff handle the dispute.
"We want our administrative staff to deal with this," Mayor Barbara Clark said, as her six colleagues agreed with nods and a loud yes from Jim Barrow.
"That is how we all work. We expect when there are rules that we are going to follow them and they are gong to be enforced. And I think none of us wants to live in a community where individuals make up the rules as they go along," Clark said, referring to how the giant octopus was painted on the storefront over Memorial Day weekend without the city's seal of approval.
A key in the Council's decision was whether or not the enormous painting of an octopus above the toy store is a mural or sign. And in the end, Council decided to accept City Attorney Tim Donaldson's opinion that the giant octopus constituted a sign for the business called Inland Octopus.
"The name of the business is Inland Octopus. The surface is of an octopus. It incorporates it into the picture and certain parts of its logo," Donaldson told Council. And then added, "It is very difficult to conclude that it is anything other than a sign...the business itself uses it to promote the toy store."
Apparently the promotion was working, as close to 70 people packed the standing-room-only City Council Chambers and the hall outside. They included natives of Walla Walla, newbies, a circa-1970s Walla Walla mayor, numerous other business owners and, most of all, customers of Inland Octopus.
Toy store owner Bob Catsiff said he knew almost all as regular customers and some as close friends, all of whom had heard he was fighting to keep the octopus. But Catsiff added there were a few strangers who spoke for him that he did not recognize.
Of all who spoke, the most convincing words for keeping the octopus seemed to come from the mouth of babes, as Shawna Corbett walked up to the microphone carrying in her arms what looked to be a 3-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl.
Corbett asked the boy, "Do you want the sign to stay?" To which he nodded yes. Then she leaned in close to the microphone so the little girl in her arms could be heard.
"I want the sign to stay," she said.
Whether the sign stays or goes is now up to city zoning staff.
As for the one person who spoke against the sign, Marie Zawatzky said she still liked the "sign, mural, art painting" or whatever people chose to call it. She merely objected to it being painted without first getting approval.
"I am a mom an grandmother. And one of the things we try to instill in our children is a sense of fair play," Zawatzky said.
"Maybe in the end I did it without the proper approval, but in the end I did it because they could not tell me why it needed to be approved," Catsiff added.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.