Saturday, January 20, 2007

Grafitti house

SAN MATEO — The Community Improvement Commission ordered a Shoreview resident Wednesday to remove cryptic messages written on her home or face as much as $5,000 in fines.

Estrella Benevides, 46, has until Feb. 14 to erase the painted script from her home in the 1800 block of Cottage Grove Avenue, which has been covered with an inscrutable text containing biblical references, conspiracy theories and glimpses into a painful personal history.

The commission ruled that Benevides will be fined $50 for every day following Feb. 14 that her roof, garage and windows remain covered with the messages, up to a limit of $5,000. The commission also imposed an administrative fee of $1,829.

Benevides vowed not to remove the messages, which she believes come from God, and to fight the commission's decision, citing her First Amendment rights to free speech. Commissioners said the problem wasn't constitutional.

"We're not complaining about what you're discussing in your signs," Commissioner Nonie Tremaine told Benevides. "We're discussing the size of your signs."

City codes prevent residents of single-family homes from writing on their roofs or posting signs larger than 6 square feet in size, though informal exceptions are made for Christmas displays.

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