Downtown Walla Walla mural gains measure of support

A group of residents called on the City Council to let the mural at Inland Octopus remain.

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WALLA WALLA -- The mountainous mollusk painted over Labor Day weekend on the front of a downtown toy store should be allowed as a permanent fixture, a group of citizens told the City Council on Wednesday.

After learning City Attorney Tim Donaldson planned to recommend removal of the painting to Council members Wednesday, seven local residents spoke out against the action at the 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall. Amid the wineries and historic buildings, the colorful mural adds a new dimension to the downtown core, they said.

"I am here to speak very much in favor of that painting," Walla Walla resident Penny Hawkins said. "... I think that the Inland Octopus painting is magnificent. I think it just adds such a wonderful character to Walla Walla."

"There are all these wineries downtown," added resident Robert Radke. "And I say let's add a little bit of diversity and keep that up there."

Citizens made their opinions known during the public comments period near the opening of the meeting. The mural issue was not included on the Council's regular agenda. Instead, the City Council had an executive session to discuss enforcement action with legal counsel. No decision was made there.

Those in the public who wish to have their voices heard on the issue will have a chance at an upcoming meeting with Council members, Mayor Barbara Clark said this morning. That setting will likely be the Council's Oct. 11 work session. Staff members will make a presentation at the work session, a less formal environment than a traditional Council meeting. Council members will also have an opportunity to ask questions there. Council members do not make formal votes or decisions during work sessions.

However, the guiding force on whether to take action will ultimately be the city code, Clark said.

"I think it's probably a question of what our ordinances say," she said.

Painted without right of way permits or the consent of the city, the mural of the octopus peeking over the walls of a castle on the storefront at 7 E. Main St. has spawned numerous discussions among officials about design standards in the historic downtown.

Inland Octopus owner Bob Catsiff had neither the support of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation nor the city on his concept for the mural. However, after researching the city codes he could find no legal evidence his proposal was out of line with the law.

Catsiff maintains the mural, painted by local artist Aaron Randall, qualifies as art. However, the city attorney believes it falls under the definition of a sign. If that's the case, Donaldson said, the painting is four times the size allowed by code.

Councilman Dominick Elia said enforcement isn't a matter of picking on a local business. It's a matter of adhering to the laws on the books, as other merchants have been required.

Several officials have pointed to the compliance of another downtown business owner who requested to install an electronic reader board at his operation. Such signs are prohibited in the downtown area, so the request was denied. Nevertheless the businessman didn't respond by putting up an electronic reader board.

"If you don't make one person follow the rules what's the next person going to do?" Elia said.

Union-Bulletin reporter Alfred Diaz contributed to this report. Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321. Walla Walla that "... that



By the book

The Walla Walla Municipal Code defines a sign as "any device, structure, fixture (including the supportive structure) or any other surface that identifies, advertises and/or promotes an activity, product service, place, business, political or social point of view or any other thing." The municipal code defines a "wall sign" as "any sign attached to or painted directly on the wall, or erected against and parallel to the wall of the building, not extending more than twelve inches from the wall."

In 2003 the city adopted downtown design standards by ordinance that created size restrictions on signs. The code says no "combination of sign areas of any kind shall exceed 150 square feet per street frontage..."

City Attorney Tim Donaldson said the largest wall sign permitted downtown would by 15 feet by 10 feet. City staff estimates the Inland Octopus painting at 7 E. Main St. at about 20 feet by 30 feet, or 600 square feet -- four times larger than the city code allows for signs. That's in addition to the existing Inland Octopus sign.

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