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Presidio Terrace: City overturns sale of wealthy homeowners’ street

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Supervisors side with rich residents despite decades of delinquent taxes

California Couple Buys Street In Exclusive San Francisco Enclave Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 on Tuesday to overturn the 2015 sale of Presidio Terrace, a privately-owned street in the neighborhood of the same name used by a few dozen of the city’s wealthiest homeowners, faulting the city’s tax collector and not the residents for letting an annual $14 tax bill go unpaid for decades.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, whose district includes Presidio Terrace, scheduled Tuesday’s hearing in August, allegedly to “get to the bottom” of the dispute and let all parties plead their case.

A South Bay couple bought Presidio Terrace’s circular street and accompanying sidewalks at a tax sale to the tune of $90,000 after the Presidio Terrace Association (PTA) had failed to pay the taxes on their avenue for 30 years.

In a letter to the board on behalf of the PTA, lawyer Scott Emblidge claims that a lack of sufficient notice violated terrace dwellers’ rights:

The U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have held that when the government knows that the owner of the property did not receive a letter of an impending tax sale, due process requires the government to do something more.

Here, the Tax Collector did nothing more after learning that the Notice of Sale was not delivered to the Association. He thereby violated the residents' and the Association's due process rights.

In response, Shepard S. Kopp, attorney for Tina Lam, one of the terrace’s new owners, called the PTA’s demands unrealistic and argues that the real injustice would be depriving his clients of something they bought fair and square:

The Tax Collector was not constitutionally required to do more [...and] he certainly was not required to conduct the wild goose chase that the PTA suggests was mandatory.

[...] The Tax Collector cannot be faulted for not poring through a 47 page document setting forth conditions, covenants, and restrictions on that property, looking for addresses which in the end would still have failed to provide the desired notice.

Earlier this month, the city’s tax chief pointed out that everybody knows they must pay taxes even if nobody reminds them and said it was the responsibility of the homeowners to take care of it no matter what, which seemed like it might be the final word on the matter.

California Couple Buys Street In Exclusive San Francisco Enclave Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

But Supervisor Farrell called the sale “inappropriate” on Tuesday. He agreed that the city owed terrace dwellers more notice before their street went up for sale. Six of his colleagues—Malia Cohen, Sandra Fewer, Jeff Sheehy, Ahsha Safai, Katy Tang, and London Breed—voted in agreement with Farrell.

Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Norman Yee, Jane Kim, and Aaron Peskin voted against overturning the legal sale.

It’s important to point out that, prior to the vote, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a onetime Presidio Terrace resident, urged San Francisco lawmakers to break the rules for the wealthy enclave residents.

San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross previously reported this is the second time Presidio Terrace was sold over unpaid tax bills, the previous incident occurring in 1970.

The victorious Presidio Terrace Association should take note that taxes on their property are due in April.