Weird roof signs attract curious crowds 

Foreboding, hand-painted signs that cover the rooftop of a San Mateo home continue to attract throngsof curious, unwelcome "tourists" to the quiet suburban neighborhood.

Brinita Jackson said she and her family try to keep to themselves in their Cottage Grove Avenue neighborhood, but that the actions of their next-door neighbor have made that a difficult task.

Estrella Benavides, on the other hand, says she is doing what her God asks of her by scrawling prophetic messages across the roof of her home at 1864 Cottage Grove Avenue, on all sides of her Honda Civic and Chevrolet El Camino and on several of the windows at three other San Mateo County homes she is responsible for.

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.

Although described as a simple sign-ordinance concern, appeals and problems with notification have dragged the issue of the foreboding roof signs on Benavides’ 1864 Cottage Grove Ave. home for almost eight months. Her neighbors are still waiting for a decision.

On Jan. 17, Benavides was ordered by the Community Improvement Commission to remove the signs or face fines. She appealed that decision to the City Council on Feb. 20; the council unanimously denied her appeal. Benavides, however, was not present at the meeting, and City Manager Arne Croce said the city had not given her enough notice for the council meeting, so they scheduled another hearing for March 19.

The next 'Fisherman's Wharf'

Residents first complained about the messages scrawled across the home in August. The signs — approximately 73 square feet worth of messages regarding government conspiracy, apocalyptic warnings and human rights abuses — violate a number of city ordinances.

The size of the individual signs and the total square footage of all the signs are both well over what the city allows, and roof signs of any type are not allowed.

The signs have also turned the street into "the next Fisherman’s Wharf," with people constantly driving by to take pictures and read the signs, Jackson said.

While they’ve drawn national attention to the quiet section of San Mateo east of U.S. Highway 101, some residents — including Robert Owlett, who lives across the street from Benavides — are concerned that the attention will damage quality of life and property values for homes within view of the signs.

Jackson said her family is not concerned about long-term affects on the neighborhood, but they’re ready for the spectacle to end.

Another neighbor who can see the signs from the backyard of his Evergreen Street house and asked to remain anonymous said he was one of the people who filed complaints.

"The city needs to take that [stuff] down," he said. "She’s just doing whatever she wants over there."

Croce said the city is ready to finally deal with the nuisance that residents have been complaining about for so long.

"There’s certainly a sense of wanting to resolve this case," he said. "It’s been out there for a long time."

Another denial of her appeal of the Jan. 17 decision would mean she would have to remove the signs — which are painted on her roof, garage door, windows and on assorted signs and banners — or face a one-time $1,829 administrative fee and daily fines of $50.

The appeal will be heard by the City Council on Monday at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 330 W. 20th Ave.

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