$50 a day fines for roof writer 

It took three hearings, but Cottage Grove residents may finally get a view that doesn’t involve government conspiracy and threats of Armageddon.

Monday night, the San Mateo City Council again voted unanimously to fine Estrella Benavides $50 a day until she removes the signs from the roof, garage door, window and front lawn of her home. The city has been working with Benavides since August after her neighbors complained about the signs.

The signs — approximately 73 square feet total — violate three city ordinances. In San Mateo residential areas, no signs are allowed to be more than six square feet in size, all signs on a property cannot exceed 10 square feet total and roof signs of any kind are prohibited.

Benavides says her signs are merely an expression of her freedom of speech, and that she is speaking out against the U.S. government’s use of witchcraft and curses.

"I feel bad, to say that I have been forced to write on my roof. I feel bad for the neighbors who have to take that fromme," Benavides said.

The Community Improvement Commission ordered her to remove the signs on Jan. 17 and appealed the decision to the City Council on Feb. 20. At that meeting — at which Benavides was not present — the council unanimously denied her appeal.

Benavides did not appear at the Feb. 20 appeal meeting and the city was concerned that she was not properly notified of the meeting. The city elected to hold a second hearing Monday night to allow her to speak to her appeal.

The council’s decision — like its original ruling and that of the commission — was simple and unanimous. Beginning April 20, Benavides will be charged $50 a day and a $1,829 administrative fee. After she reaches $5,000 in fines, the city will pursue legal action against her or charge her for the time it takes the Department of Public Works to remove the signs.

"The issue was simple: You can’t have signs that big and you can’t have signs on your roof," City Councilman John Lee said.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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