Rich homeowners urge San Francisco to return sold-off street

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The British consul general in San Francisco and other residents of an exclusive gated neighborhood are pleading with city officials to rescind the sale of their street for unpaid taxes.

More than a dozen residents of Presidio Terrace, one of the toniest private streets in San Francisco, argued Tuesday that the city sold their street without properly notifying them. If they had been informed — that they owed $14 per year in back taxes — they surely would have paid it, several residents testified.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors was hearing the case Tuesday and expected to decide whether to rescind the sale or leave it alone. The issue is unprecedented in San Francisco, although supervisors in other California counties have reversed sales as allowed under state law.

The case has attracted attention because of the exclusive address it involves and the price one savvy investor paid for it.

Investor Tina Lam bought the street, its sidewalks and common areas for a mere $90,000 at an auction in 2015 after the Presidio Terrace Association failed to pay property taxes on it for two decades. The Association says the annual tax bills of $14 and auction notice were being sent to an outdated address.

Homeowners learned about the sale earlier this year and petitioned the board for a hearing.

By taking up the issue, officials have sparked criticism that the city is not as fair and equitable as it claims, but a playground for the rich who don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else. San Francisco has some of the most exorbitant property prices in the country and has become increasingly unaffordable for many people.

City Treasurer Jose Cisneros says the association representing some three dozen homeowners was responsible for updating its address and should have paid its taxes on time. He backs the new owner Lam, a Silicon Valley software manager.

The oval-shaped street in upscale Presidio Heights is lined with leafy palms, lush landscaping and multimillion-dollar mansions. Previous residents of the gated neighborhood include U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who wrote a letter that accused the city of bureaucratic bungling.

The residents argued Tuesday that they are law-abiding, taxpaying citizens.

British consul general Andrew Whittaker joined other residents at the hearing, testifying that he was neither consulted nor informed of the final sale. The British government has owned a house on the street since 2003.

The issue is giving at least one supervisor voting pains. Aaron Peskin said he would side with the new owner in a “hot second” if he could because of the way the association has behaved. However, he said that the homeowners make a reasonable argument that government should not take property without better notice.