Unsightly San Mateo signs may meet legal match

By the end of the week, San Mateo may finally take legal action to force a homeowner to remove a series of signs, painted messages and banners from her Cottage Grove Avenue home after nearly a year of warnings and meetings.

After Estrella Benavides failed to appear at a meeting called by the city’s legal counsel two weeks ago to discuss the ongoing problem, City Attorney Shawn Mason said the city began preparing a lawsuit to enforce the sign ordinances on the home.

“It’s pretty clear that she’s not responsive and has not made any attempt to comply,” Mason said.

The city attorney said he had not decided whether the lawsuit against Benavides would be civil or criminal, though either is possible.

The home’s signs violate three ordinances. In residential areas, no sign can be larger than six square feet in size, a property’s signs as a whole cannot exceed 10 square feet total and roof signs of any kind are prohibited.

In April, the city began charging Benavides $50 for every day she failed to bring her home into compliance with city code. Approximately 100 days later, Benavides has reached her $5,000 fine limit.

Benavides has around 73 square feet of signage on her front lawn, front windows, garage door and both sides of her roof. Part of the front roof sign has been painted over with a large patch of orange paint, but the messages are partially visible underneath.

New messages have been added to existing signs, sticking to topics of government-sanctioned child abuse and prophetic warnings of the apocalypse.

Similar signs have been removed from another Benavides home currently for sale on Lago Street. Sale of that home, and a pending foreclosure onher Cottage Grove home, could leave Benavides without a San Mateo residence.

Throughout the process, the city has given Benavides several chances to meet with them and discuss the home since her neighbors first complained in August of last year.

She missed several meetings, and when she did arrive, her comments were focused on divine wrath, systematic human rights violations by the United States government, mind control and witchcraft.

Benavides was not available for comment about the coming lawsuit.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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