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Giant purple octopus faces midnight deadline

The mural on the storefront of the Inland Octopus toy shop, which measures 638 square feet, may cease to exist after midnight Wednesday.
The mural on the storefront of the Inland Octopus toy shop, which measures 638 square feet, may cease to exist after midnight Wednesday.Courtesy of Inland Octopus

The clock is ticking to decide the fate of a massive purple octopus mural in Walla Walla, Wash.

The giant sea creature blankets the storefront of Inland Octopus, a toy shop on the town's Main Street. And at 22 feet wide by 29 feet tall, it's nearly 500 square feet too large for a wall sign under a city ordinance.

Now, store owner Bob Catsiff is under legal and financial pressure to paint over the octopus, or make it smaller, by midnight Wednesday or the city will do it on his dime, a bill which would include accrued violation fines, totaling about $89,000. 

The mural has been the cause of relentless legal dispute since shortly after Catsiff commissioned it without a permit on Labor Day 2010, including a petition he filed to the U.S. Supreme Court late last year in a last-ditch effort to keep the giant mural. 

Catsiff continued his fight earlier this month by arguing there are other signs in the city that violate the code, and the city has engaged in selective enforcement against him.

"This is actually a very simple argument: the city has never taken enforcement action against any sign code violator though numerous violations have existed for years," Catsiff wrote in an open letter to the city council and citizens of Walla Walla. 

Catsiff said his lawyer sent a letter to the City Attorney earlier this month regarding the selective enforcement, requesting the city's position, but he has still not heard back. 

However, Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa told the Union-Bulletin that the city hasn’t had recent contact with Catsiff.

“We are in a holding pattern,” Shawa said. “My hope is he will come forward and bring the sign into compliance with the city code.”

Meanwhile, Catsiff has lost every court decision to prove his mural is legitimate as is. 

About a year ago, the State Court of Appeals in Spokane, Wash., sided with the city's regulations and rejected Catsiff's argument that the sign code infringed upon his constitutional right of free speech, the Union-Bulletin reported. 

Then, last February, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review that ruling, which exhausted Catsiff's appeals in the lawsuit he filed in late 2010.

Shawa immediately issued a statement, saying the city intended to enforce a hearing examiner’s initial order, giving Catsiff 30 days to bring the mural into full compliance with the sign code or the city could abate it, the Union-Bulletin reported. 

For now, Shawa said the city will decide how to proceed after the Wednesday deadline, which Catsiff seems poised to miss.  

"Though I struggle to weather the mental stress and financial burden this has caused, I shall continue fighting to preserve the mural due to overwhelming community support and my deep belief that I am right," Catsiff said.