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SF votes to return street to wealthy Presidio Terrace homeowners

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A view of Presidio Terrace in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo courtesy Google Streetview)
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San Francisco rescinded Tuesday the sale of a private street used by 35 wealthy homeowners of the Presidio Terrace Association.

Tax Collector José Cisneros had put the street up for auction in 2015 after the association failed to pay its annual $14 tax bill for a number of years, amounting to a debt of $994.

“This is an obviously unique and bizarre situation. And there is plenty of blame to go around,” said Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents the area. The board had approved the sale in 2015, but Farrell said he was unaware of this specific case at the time.

“What happened was totally inappropriate,” Farrell said, arguing the Cisneros should have done more to notify the homeowners before auctioning off the street.

Farrell voted to rescind the sale along with supervisors Malia Cohen, Sandra Fewer, Jeff Sheehy, Ahsha Safai, Katy Tang and board President London Breed.

Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Norman Yee, Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim opposed it.

Ronen argued rescinding the sale was caving to the influence of wealthy people, and that low-income residents or people of color don’t receive similar treatment by City Hall.

“There is no discretion in the law when it comes to poor people,” Ronen said.“I get that it sucks. But did the treasurer act unreasonably? I don’t think so.”

The property was among 389 properties that was auctioned for delinquent property tax bills in 2015 and among the 57 that were sold.

G. Scott Emblidge, an attorney representing the Presidio Terrace Association, during a Board of Supervisors meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The property was purchased in 2015 by South Bay real estate investor Michael Cheng and his wife, Tina Lam — one of eight bidders — for $90,100. But the homeowners only recently learned of the sale and called on the Board of Supervisors to rescind the sale.

“We are here today because no one regardless of who they are should be deprived of their property without due process of law,” the Presidio Terrace Association’s attorney G. Scott Emblidge said. He argued Cisneros should have done more to notify property owners of the sale based on various court rulings.

But Cisneros said he followed the law and proper notice was provided, including with public notices in the San Francisco Examiner.

“I am not up here saying the treasurer didn’t check the boxes on the tax code about notifying the Board of Supervisors, putting an ad in the Examiner and sending out mail. He did that,” Emblidge said.“But the question is when the mail comes back and you know the property owner didn’t get it, the law says you have got to do more, and [the treasurer] didn’t.”

Emblidge said the association didn’t receive notices due a change in accountants and the address on file with the treasurer no longer went to the association.

The association had also filed a lawsuit against The City and the property owners to regain their street for the cul-de-sac of the multi-million dollar homes.

The association has the backing of former influential Presidio Terrace resident Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, who wrote asking the board to rescind the sale.

Cheng was unapologetic for the purchase. “We all know we have to pay our taxes,” Cheng said. “They should have known.”

It wasn’t exactly clear what the couple intended to do with the street, but Farrell said he heard that the couple had offered to sell the street back to the homeowners for $1 million.

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