San Mateo to begin assessing fines for rooftop signs 

The San Mateowoman who decorated her Cottage Grove Avenue home with approximately 73 square feet of wood signs, banners and yellow paint will begin paying $50 a day on Friday for violating the city’s sign ordinances.

Estrella Benavides has said she is speaking out against human rights abuses, witchcraft and mass manipulation with her postings. But until she brings the signs into compliance with city code, she will be fined every day. She will also be billed $1,829 in administrative fees for the appeal hearings she requested.

In residential areas, no sign is 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. Residents first complained about the house in August.

On March 19, the San Mateo City Council unanimously upheld a Community Improvement Commission ruling declaring the home a public nuisance and fining Benavides $50 a day. "We have exhausted our civil remedies," said Neighborhood Improvement and Housing Director Robert Muehlbauer.

The city will bill Benavides until she removes the signs or until the fee reaches $5,000. At that point, Muehlbauer said City Attorney Shawn Mason will advise the city on one of several possible actions.

The city can "summarily abate," the nuisance by sending crews out to paint over and remove the signs. Benavides would be fined for the removal, but Mason said the city would not likely pursue an action this forceful. "We haven’t yet decided what to do, but it is likely that if she does not comply with the orders, the city will take legal action to enforce it," Mason said.

The city could take Benavides to civil court and seek a court order directing her to remove the signs or criminal court seeking punishment for non-compliance.

"We’ve had other situations with individuals who are exhibiting odd behaviors in terms of property maintenance," Muehlbauer said. "They’ve all been resolved, some go to court, some find their own resolutions, some people just sell the property."

Benavides, who could not be reached for comment, has said in the past that the signs are her only means of conveying her god’s message. They also contain messages against "them," an amalgamation of government and world leaders and public figures she accuses of using technology, witchcraft and mind control to persecute the poor.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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