"This has been going on for 10 years; Katz has been in office for 12," says Rose Griego of Metro Murals. She's talking about the city's ongoing attempts to outlaw billboards while not banning murals. With both regulated under the city's sign code, it is a sticky free speech issue and one that has left the city without murals for the past six years.

But last week, Katz presented her bright idea to remedy the problem. Instead of placing murals under the city's sign code, they will be considered "public art" and subjected to a bureaucratic approval process.

Like most artists, Griego is cautiously optimistic that the new plan will work. At least, she says, it's a step forward--or, in some direction. "It's about frickin' time," she adds.

The story dates back to 1998 when Katz and city council tried to place confining restrictions on billboards. In response, Clear Channel sued, saying the city was violating free speech allowances. Clear Channel won a $1 million settlement (still unpaid by the city). Stubbornly, the city decided to keep their restrictive sign code in place--a decision that unfortunately affects murals. Under the sign code, murals are subject to restrictive regulations and fees.

As Katz slides into her final weeks in office, the mural problem has been one of the many unresolved issues hovering around her legacy. Last December, council member Randy Leonard tried to remedy the problem and hammered out an agreement to redo the city's sign code. But Katz threw a hissy fit, claiming she would fix the problem herself.

It took a year, but last week she finally unveiled her solution. The "murals as public art" plan must still be approved by city council (the vote occurred after press time).

No one is thrilled, but local muralists seem to feel that the new proposal is better than nothing. Joe Cotter of the group Portland Mural Defense offered his conditional support: "It's not the ideal situation, but if it gets more art on the walls, that's a good thing."

Clear Channel has already said they will challenge the new code. Most legal experts believe the Oregon Supreme Court will strike it down.