Residents of a mansion-lined San Francisco cul-de-sac have reclaimed their street after city supervisors rescinded the sale at an auction ordered because the homeowners association failed to pay an annual property tax bill of about $14.
The Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 at a hearing Tuesday night to cancel the $90,000 sale of the sidewalk, street, common areas and about 100 parking spaces.
The ruling didn't sit well with the would-be buyers, Michael Cheng and Tina Lam.
"The law should be fair for everyone," Cheng said after the decision. "It should not be applied unfairly and special, just for somebody who has millions of dollars at their discretion and political connections at their beck and call."
The board cited the association's claim that the tax bills were sent to the wrong address and questioned the treasurer/tax collector office's efforts to notify the association in advance of the sale.
"I don't dispute that we could have done more," City Treasurer José Cisneros said at the hearing. But he said he has limited tools at his disposal and that thousands of tax bills don't reach the intended recipients each year — and the taxes still are paid.
Residents said they never knew about the auction, which took place in 2015, until earlier this year when representatives of the couple asked if the homeowners association wanted to buy back the street. Some residents said the couple sought about 10 times what they paid.
Cheng's suggestion that residents might be charged a nominal parking fee also didn't sit well with the locals.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a former resident of Presidio Terrace, sent a letter to the city stating that "no one should lose property at the hands of the government without knowing about it."
Supervisor Mark Farrell agreed and issued a statement after the vote saying the sale never should have taken place in the first place.
“I am proud of my seven colleagues who voted against allowing these speculators to get away with purchasing a neighborhood street and attempting to extort San Francisco residents that I represent into a quick $1 million payday," Farrell said. "I am shocked that four of my colleagues sided with these out-of-town speculators.”
Farrell said residents promised to pay the taxes expeditiously. Since the buyers are getting their money back, he described the situation as "no harm, no foul." Farrell also said the city will fix the "broken" system so a similar situation doesn't happen again.
But this wasn't even the first time it happened at Presidio Terrace. The homeowners association also defaulted back in the 1970s, and the state took over ownership of the street. There was little actual impact. The association took control of the street a decade later, and almost immediately began failing to pay the taxes.
Hence, Tuesday night's legal clash over a tax bill that, even with penalties and interest, only amounted to about $1,000. The litigation may not be over — Cheng and Lam did not immediately announce whether they will sue the city over the decision.
"We are being burdened by the fact that other people don't know the laws," Cheng said. "I am here to speak up for all Californians and San Franciscans who believe the laws should be fair for everyone."