Octopus mural's fate should have zero to do with its popularity

The city attorney has made a solid argument the mural violates the downtown sign ordiance.

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The giant mural -- or is that an enormous sign? -- above the Inland Octopus toy store on Main Street has captured the hearts of many. And its fans seem to be growing by the day.

More than two dozen folks went before the Walla Walla City Council on Monday to make it clear they enjoy the mural and want it to stay. Many of those speaking apparently don't care if the 550-square-foot painting violates the downtown sign ordinance. It's art, they like it, so it should stay. Period.

We agree it is art -- and it's a lot of fun. Frankly, it is something that fits nicely on a toy store.

But that is irrelevant. Inland Octopus owner Bob Catsiff didn't adhere to the rules when he commissioned artist Aaron Randall to paint the mural over the Labor Day weekend.

Catsiff presented a proposal for the mural to the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation. The Foundation's Design Committee rejected the concept. It, however, has no legal authority.

Foundation Executive Director Elio Agostini reportedly presented the concept to city officials, who do have legal authority. The city reportedly told him the mural would not be allowed.

Catsiff did it anyway. And when businesses opened following the holiday Walla Walla residents and visitors were greeted with the huge mural.

City Attorney Tim Donaldson is of the opinion the giant mural is a sign that is so large it is in violation of the ordinance. The City Council on Monday opted not to intervene to rescue the mural, which means it is now up to the city manager and the city's administrative staff to determine if it is a sign and whether action will be taken to have it removed.

"People are saying, 'You're only doing this because you don't like it.' But there's nothing nefarious going on here," Donaldson said in an interview last week. "People want to paint us as bad guys. But if this stays, what do we say to the next people -- 'Well, gee, if you do it over a weekend when we're not here and it's already out there we're not going to do anything about it. Otherwise, the sign code applies?'"

Donaldson hit the mark. This is about -- and only about -- applying the rules uniformly to all.

At Monday's meeting just one of the 27 speakers called for rules to be enforced.

Marie Zawatzky made it clear she liked the "sign, mural, art painting" or whatever, but she objected to it being painted without first getting approval.

"I am a mom and grandmother. And one of the things we try to instill in our children is a sense of fair play," Zawatzky said.

That means following the rules. Donaldson has made a solid case that did not happen here.

In the end, Catsiff might get to keep his mural. It depends on what the city's administrative staff members decide. Or it might hinge on what happens in court if enforcement is appealed.

But whatever happens will have nothing to do -- nor should it -- with how popular the octopus mural has become.

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