Rooftop messages irking neighbors 

Estrella Benavides says she is doing what her God asks of her by scrawling prophetic messages across the roof of her Cottage Grove Avenue home, all sides of her Honda Civic and Chevrolet El Camino and several of the windows at three San Mateo County homes she is responsible for.

But divinely inspired or not, the city of San Mateo prohibits roof signs, and if Benavides doesn’t remove the signs by the next Community Improvement Commission meeting on Jan. 17, she could face up to $100 a day in fines.

The messages — which include paraphrasing from The Bible and anti-government statements — are meant to warn people that "he is coming," Benavides said, referring to her God. She said she was inspired to write the messages by reading The Bible, and calls herself a servant rather than a prophet.

Benavides said she is being asked to remove the signs because the city doesn’t want people to read the messages she is conveying, but Neighborhood Improvement and Housing Manager Robert Muehlbauer said the problem is all about location. Roof signs can have a harsh effect on the aesthetic appeal of a neighborhood, he said.

"We don’t have any restrictions on the content, just size and location," he said.

Across the street from the Cottage Grove home, homeowner Robert Owlett said he is only bothered by the roof sign "eyesore" because it is high enough to be seen easily from his backyard.

"She can write whatever she wants on her garage door, but when she started writing on her roof, it was too much," Owlett said. "And if I were a homeowner, I definitely would not want to move in next to that, especially if I had kids."

For the unemployed mother of three, those fines would just add to the already mounting burden of trying to pay a mortgage on her Cottage Grove home.

"I don’t know what I’m going to do," Benevides said while cleaning out the Lago Street duplex.

She is currently working to sell the duplex and a Beresford Avenue house in Belmont. At real estate consultant Michael Haywood’s request, she has taken down a number of signs at the Belmont home to make it more attractive to homebuyers.

Benavides, who used to be a waitress at a local Denny’s restaurant, said she inherited the Beresford home from a customer who had no heirs and decided to give her the home when he died.

Haywood said he did not know how Benavides supported herself or paid for either of the other two homes.

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