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San Diego, which once pioneered the way for tough sign regulations across the country, can get ready for some really big billboards if some of the nation's largest outdoor advertising companies manage to have their way with city council and new Democratic mayor Bob Filner.

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Based on recent filings by some of city hall's most influential lobbyists, a daunting array of high tech so-called off premise signs may be about to decorate the great outdoors here.

In a lobbying disclosure statement filed November 30, Paul Robinson's Hecht, Solberg, Robinson & Bagley reported it has been retained by Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Outdoor, Inc. regarding "the inclusion of San Diego billboard properties in proposed San Diego Arts and Entertainment District (billboard addresses not yet available)."

The company's website says it is "in an aggressive growth stage, with an ever-expanding list of outdoor advertising markets. We now cover top-30 markets across the country and we're adding more premium real estate locations every day."

Then there is the San Bernardino law firm of Gresham Savage Nolan & Tilden PC, which played a central role in San Diego's great Walmart political money laundering scandal of 1996.

The firm and Walmart mall developer Frank Gatlin agreed to pay $420,000 in penalties for making illegal campaign contributions to six San Diego City Council candidates.

Gresham and one of its principals acknowledged they had arranged for 110 separate contributions totaling $29,000 to council candidates Ron Roberts, Juan Vargas, Barbara Warden, Judy McCarty and George Stevens.

In a disclosure statement filed December 14, Gresham reports it is working for Lamar Advertising to "negotiate approval of billboard contract with the city," and to "advocate to amend city billboard ordinance," as well as to "seek approval to convert static billboards to digital," and obtain "approval of converting to digital billboards."

Lamar has also retained the services of Southwest Strategies, the lobbying boutique founded by ex-Tribune reporter Al Ziegaus. In an October disclosure, Southwest said it was working for Lamar to amend the sign ordinance to allow digital boards.

As we reported previously, U-T San Diego owner Douglas Manchester and his partner John Lynch have been pushing for their own giant outdoor digital signboard on the outside of the paper's Mission Valley headquarters, attempting to use the paper's clout in the process.

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