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Auction sale of tony SF street rescinded

San Francisco supervisors voted to rescind the sale of a private street that was put up for auction by The City’s tax collector after a homeowner’s association failed to pay its property tax bill.

Board members voted 7-4 to rescind the sale of Presidio Terrace, a small, affluent street on the edge of the Presidio, which was auctioned for $90,000 to San Jose residents Tina Lam and Michael Cheng in 2015. Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Aaron Peskin, Norman Yee and Jane Kim opposed the sale.

Homeowners in Presidio Terrace, which has been a privately-owned street since 1905, filed a lawsuit challenging the street’s sale after learning of it earlier this year.

Attorney George Emblidge, representing the homeowner’s association, said the association had failed to pay its taxes, which totaled less than $14 a year, because it hadn’t updated its mailing address following a change of accountants in the mid 1990s.

However, that mistake was compounded by the tax collector’s failure to make further efforts to track down the property owners after the notice of sale was returned in the mail.

Emblidge said:

“We’re here today because no one should be deprived of their property without due process.”

The wealthy homeowner’s plight has drawn little sympathy in the wider community, with several speakers arguing today that the association was at fault and lambasting the board’s support of the wealthy.

Ronen, in particular, argued against rescinding the sale, noting that the homeowner’s association had lost the property once before in the 1980s for the same reason:

“This case has viscerally impacted San Franciscans because there’s no discretion in the law when it comes to poor people, there’s no discretion in the law when it comes to people of color.”

Ronen noted that most city residents did not enjoy private access to their streets and sidewalks:

“Did the treasurer act unreasonably? I don’t think so. Should we give a second bite of the apple to these homeowners when most people never get that? I don’t’ think so.”

Representatives for Lam and Cheng said the couple had bought the property “fair and square.” Lam said:

 “I’m not any big time real estate developer, I’m just an engineer from the South Bay with a simple dream of owning a piece of San Francisco.”

Lam added she could not afford to live on the street herself.

However Supervisor Mark Farrell said the couple had sought to sell the street back to homeowners for more than $900,000 and discussed putting parking meters on the street:

“Do we want to allow speculators from out of town to bid on pieces of San Francisco property, on our streets, and then charge residents for access to those streets? … On its face it’s ridiculous that we want to condone that here.”

Tax Collector Jose Cisneros said his office had posted the sale in the newspaper and on its web site, but since this case emerged has reviewed procedures to increase efforts to reach out to delinquent property owners.

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