'God chose me to be his servant'
Despite protests, woman paints messages on her roof
SAN MATEO -- A San Mateo woman is getting messages from God and painting them in five-foot-tall letters on the roof of her house.
The city wants her to stop doing it. Her neighbors want her to stop doing it. But Estrella Benavides says she can't do that.
"I am going to keep going, because it is all I can do,'' she said. "God chose me to be His servant. There is such a thing as freedom of speech.''
Benavides, a 48-year-old woman who lives alone in her yellow house on Cottage Grove Avenue, began painting the giant messages about a year ago, about the time her husband moved out and she lost custody of her son. Last month, she had two large pins inserted through her lips, to keep her from eating as part of a religious fast. God told her to do that, too.
For months, cars and pedestrians have been passing slowly by the yellow house at all hours of the day and night, pointing at the giant letters on the roof and at other messages painted on the garage door, windows and the red compact car parked in the driveway.
The messages are a barely intelligible garble involving cloning, abuse, rape, the Mafia, Castro, Hitler, the Constitution, hurricane Katrina, Watergate and President Bush.
Not long ago, the city of San Mateo posted a sign of its own on Benavides' front door, informing her that her signs violated city rules. The city said her signs are too big, too numerous and cannot be on the roof. It scheduled a hearing before the Community Improvement Commission for January 17. If Benavides loses, she could be fined up to $10,000 a day and lose her home.
Her neighbor just across the street, Robert Owlett, said he tries to be tolerant but the roof signs have got to go.
"She can paint what she wants on the garage, but I draw the line at the roof,'' he said. "It's an eyesore. It's an invasion of my privacy and it degrades the neighborhood. This may not be Hillsborough but it's all we've got.''
Next door neighbor Briana Jackson said cars drive by constantly to look at the signs, and she finds that "disturbing.''
Jackson said she's tried to be a good neighbor. She offered to share her Thanksgiving dinner with Benavides, and she tries to chat from time to time, but it's become increasingly harder to get through.
"Now I pray for her, and I hope she gets help,'' Jackson said. "It's an unbelievable situation.''
Benavides said she first began receiving messages from God through a statue at her church. Now, she said, she gets the special messages when she reads the Bible. Sometimes she broadcasts the messages from a loudspeaker mounted on the roof of her car.
"If the city wants to put me in jail, what can I do?'' she said. "I am God's servant.''
Anyway, she said, the size of the roof letters are not particularly large.
"The signs at Costco are a lot bigger than the ones on my roof,'' she said.
"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon