Giant octopus mural worthy of discussion

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Some are concerned the downtown painting could spur more murals. Other don't see a problem. All sides should have their say.

The giant, colorful mural painted on the Main Street building that's home to the Inland Octopus toy store is the talk of the town.

Some folks love it, some folks hate it but everybody seems to want to see it. The mural, which debuted earlier this week, continues to draw interest from those driving or walking.

But the big question that looms over this very large painting of an octopus in a castle with a rainbow overhead is what it means to the future of downtown Walla Walla.

Prior to the mural's arrival there seemed to be an understanding that downtown buildings are all suppose to look like they've been around for a century -- have that historical look.

The city government and the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation created detailed downtown design standards that even include a selection of recommended paint colors. But City Manager Nabiel Shawa said those standards are merely recommendations and are not enforceable laws.

It's possible that some legal hook can be found to force Inland Octopus owner Bob Catsiff to paint over the mural, but it's also possible he may be free to keep the mural intact. As long as the regulations and laws are followed, building owners should be allowed to do as they like with their buildings.

Still, there is concern among downtown merchants, building owners and interested citizens that this mural could be the first of many. And the next ones might be far more outrageous and objectionable.

If the concern is great enough, perhaps those with a stake in the downtown area should get together and talk about it.

Maybe the next step is to have a discussion on whether it makes sense to impose design regulations rather than recommendations. This could head off future problems. Then again, it could create new, unanticipated problems.

This is why the discussion must be thorough, looking at all sides of this issue.

But if new restrictions are adopted they should not retroactively apply to Inland Octopus. If Castiff was within the law and his rights when he commissioned the paintings, he should be allowed to keep it.

If his neighboring business owners have strong feelings either way and want to appeal to Catsiff to keep it or take it down, that's their right. Frankly, his customers can do the same.

In the end, this isn't the issue of our time. It's a mural, albeit a very big mural, we are talking about. And Walla Wallans are talking about it.

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