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Council Race Emerging as Battle of Billboards

Election: One ad firm is backing Tony Cardenas, while other is erecting signs touting Wendy Greuel.


With new city regulations pending, billboard companies have launched dueling campaigns throughout the east San Fernando Valley to sway voters in the Dec. 11 election for the Los Angeles City Council's 2nd District seat.

Just months after Regency Outdoor Advertising launched a controversial campaign that helped elect Rocky Delgadillo city attorney, the firm has put up billboards touting the council candidacy of Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar).

At the same time, Clear Channel Outdoor plans today to erect billboards supporting DreamWorks SKG executive Wendy Greuel, another candidate in the race, but also plans to later put up smaller signs backing Cardenas.

"Our issues are coming up, and we want to be part of the political picture," said Ed Dato, a vice president for the firm.

Dato estimated the cost of providing the first two billboards for Greuel will be $10,000.

Billboard companies proved in this year's election for city attorney that they can be a powerful force in campaigns. Delgadillo was supported in independent billboard campaigns totaling $425,000. They were seen as a key factor in Delgadillo's defeat of Councilman Mike Feuer.

Campaign-reform advocates said voters should be concerned when special interests launch independent expenditure campaigns because they are not subject to the city's $500 limit on contributions for council races.

"In a sense, both candidates in this race will benefit from billboards, and both candidates are going to feel somewhat beholden to billboard companies if they are elected," said Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.

"We have contribution limits, and I would have hoped the billboard companies would have stuck with those limits," Stern added.

James Cordaro, the third candidate in the race, said the billboard campaigns put him at a disadvantage.

The Ethics Commission requires 24 hours' notice whenever $1,000 or more is spent on an independent expenditure, but had received no notice from the billboard firms by Tuesday, an official said.

The billboard campaigns are taking place just months before the City Council is expected to take up an ordinance allowing companies to put up 70 new billboards along city freeways in exchange for the removal of thousands of existing signs from Los Angeles neighborhoods. Some neighborhood activists oppose the plan, saying it will add visual blight.

Dato said that Clear Channel Outdoor supports the concept of the exchange, but hopes to negotiate with the city to reduce the number of old billboards that must be taken down.

Both Cardenas and Greuel said they are open to some form of exchange that would allow new freeway billboards.

"If we can reduce the number of billboards in the city in a way that involves the community, that would be awesome," Cardenas said. "The devil is in the details. We ought to enforce getting rid of illegal billboards as of yesterday."

Greuel said she would support an exchange that has the backing of affected community groups: "Obviously, everybody believes there should be some kind of compromise. My bottom line is the community has to participate in the process so it is acceptable to them."

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