San Mateo to homeowner: Lose the signs 

With no discussion and no testimony from the public, the City Council unanimously declared a woman’s sign-laden house a public nuisance, and gave her a month to remove the signs or face penalties.

(Examiner file photo) The city has ordered the owner of this home to remove giant messages painted on the structure and threatened her with daily fines of $50.

The city has been working with Estrella Benavides — who did not show up to speak on her appeal — since August, when neighbors first complained about the messages painted across the roof, garage door and windows of her 1864 Cottage Grove Ave. home.

The Lago Street duplex, Beresford Avenue house in Belmont and two cars she owns had similar messages on them as well.

While some of the signs are hard to make sense of, they share a general theme of government conspiracy, apocalyptic warnings and physical, mental and sexual abuses.

The unanimous denial of her appeal of the Jan. 17 Community Improvement Decision means that she has until March 20 to remove the signs — which are painted on her roof, garage door, windows and front lawn at Cottage Grove Avenue — or face daily fines of $50 and a one-time $1,829 administrative fee.

Benavides says the city’s sign ordinances violate her First Amendment rights, and that the messages are divinely inspired.

While Benavides offered heated arguments in her defense at the Jan. 17 meeting, she was absent Tuesday night.

Regardless, city officials said there was little debate needed on the issue, because despite the spectacle, it was a simple matter. The city’s sign ordinance does not restrict content, but it does restrict the size of signs.

"We are strictly ruling on the ordinance, and she violated that," Councilman John Lee said before the meeting. "The ordinance is for a good purpose; her neighbors are distraught because it impacts them."

If Benavides hasn’t brought her house in line with the ordinance before the fees reach $5,000, the city may remove the signs and bill her for the service, or seek legal action against her, according to Neighborhood Improvement and Housing Director Robert Muehlbauer.

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