Belmont evicts scribbling resident

A woman’s battle to keep hand-painted messages of biblical references and conspiracy theories on one of the last of her Peninsula homes is drawing to an end after she was evicted from her Belmont residence.

Four months after Estrella Benavides’ San Mateo home — plastered with signs of apocalyptic, dramatic messages of biblical judgment and government abuse on the front, roof and lawn — was foreclosed upon and sold, her other sign-ridden home in Belmont was foreclosed upon in late February.

Benavides has one final chance to keep the residence if she wins an eviction trial Monday in San Mateo County Superior Court. She has said in the past that she was only exercising her First Amendment rights when she posted the signs.

Belmont officials filed a lawsuit against Benavides on Nov. 8, 2007, after she refused to take down the signs, which were in violation of a city ordinance that required no signs on any residence to be larger than 12 square feet, City Attorney Marc Zafferano said. Benavides has yet to formally respond to the lawsuit.

The signs, written mostly in white, cover the front of her single-family home on 3416 Beresford Ave. as well as the sides and back. She also had two cars and two homes in San Mateo with similar scattered phrases that talked about Cuba, rape and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

She had already been evicted from her home on 1864 Cottage Grove Ave. in San Mateo after that house was foreclosed upon, which came after San Mateo sued for a similar signage ordinance violation.

This second foreclosure would leave her with just one home, a duplex on Lago Street in San Mateo, which does not have any signs on it, said Lance Bayer, Belmont special counsel for the case.

Benavides initially said she was not properly served with the Belmont complaint, Zafferano said. While the city awaited her formal response, the house was foreclosed on, he said.

After the hearing Monday, the city will work with the Beresford Avenue home’s new owner to take down the signs, thereby nullifying the lawsuit, Zafferano said. That scenario played out after her Cottage Grove Avenue home in San Mateo was foreclosed on, he said.

“I’m delighted,” said Carole Thompson, who lives across the street from the Belmont home.

“It’s been a mess forever, and it’s a nice, nice house. I know our new neighbor is going to be most welcome.”

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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