Angry homeowners on an opulent San Francisco street got their wish Tuesday when city supervisors Tuesday canceled the sale of their road and sidewalks at an auction held for an overdue, $14-per-year tax bill.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night voted 7-4 to overturn the sale of Presidio Terrace.
Michael Cheng and Tina Lam had purchased the mansion-lined, block-long Presidio Terrace in April 2015 for $90,000 after the taxes went unpaid for decades. Even with interest and fees, the bill only came to about $1,000.
Initially, it appeared the sale might stick.
"They bought it fair and square,” San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin said of the married couple. “Having said that, we are going to determine if the treasurer/tax collector followed the law as it was written.”
Terrace residents got wind of the issue earlier this year when representatives of Cheng and Lam reached out, asking if the community wanted to buy their street back.
Outrage ensued. Residents hired high-powered lawyers and a public relations firm to press their case. The residents blame the unpaid taxes on a bureaucratic blunder, saying the bills were mailed to incorrect addresses, including one that is now a pilates studio.
Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who lived in the neighborhood for more than two decades, weighed in. She said the bills were presumably returned undeliverable, yet "ignorance endured."
"In the United States of America, no one should lose property at the hands of the government without knowing about it," she wrote.
Treasurer Jose Cisneros defended his office, saying thousands of tax bills are returned each year due to address problems. It's up to the homeowner's association to make sure the city has the correct mailing address, he said.
The law, Cisneros said, is clear: Taxes are owed whether a bill is received or not.
At stake is a private, tree-lined cul-de-sac serving 35 homes with a sidewalk, small but lush common areas and more than 100 parking spaces.
Cheng, who said the couple has considered charging residents a nominal fee to park on their street, told KPIX-TV in San Francisco that he sensed the supervisors were leaning toward the residents.
“The reception has been pretty cool overall," he said. "I don’t get the sense that they are very keen on backing the state law and the tax collector on this."