On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 to rescind the tax sale of Presidio Terrace, a privately-owned street near the Presidio Heights neighborhood, prompting a chorus of boos from most San Franciscans.
“There are two sets of laws: those for the haves and those for the wannabes or have-nots,” commented one Curbed SF reader, a sentiment echoed (often in far less polite terms) by disgruntled readers across every Bay Area publication.
The fact that the residents of Presidio Terrace own some of the city’s most expensive single-family homes and the fact that their annual $14 tax bill went unpaid for three decades—the homeowner’s association and its attorneys blame the city for sending the bill to the wrong place—made Tuesday’s vote look like a special favor for the rich, at least in the eyes of armchair politicians.
But some city lawmakers are sticking by their votes.
On Reddit, a user shared District Eight Supervisor Jeff Sheehy’s reply to a query about the Presidio Terrace flap. Sheehy, currently battling it out with Rafael Mandelman for reelection, confirmed to Curbed SF the following was indeed his reply to a constituent’s concern:
My vote was based on facts. Did the Treasurer make a reasonable attempt to contact the Presidio Terrace HOA [Homeowners Association]? A certified letter was sent and returned undelivered. I think before someone’s property is seized and sold, considerably more effort should be made to contact the owner.
If it was your property that was sold, would you be satisfied that the efforts of the Treasurer were sufficient? I was far from satisfied that reasonable efforts to contact the property owner were made.
The Treasurer treats “vacant” and “occupied” property differently. When a property is occupied, the Treasurer goes to considerable lengths to notify the owner and also will work to help the owner so people are not thrown out on the street. I find this policy to be admirable.
However, the Presidio Terrace property is not “vacant” and is an integral part of the properties included in the HOA. In fact, those properties have easements on the Presidio Terrace property that was sold and thus have an interest in the property and by law they should have been notified individually about the pending sale.
Tax sales are meant to recover taxes, not make money for the Treasurer, by law. The sale price was $90,000 and that exceeded the tax bill of $994 and by law, those funds are owed to the previous owner—the Presidio HOA.
No reasonable attempt was made to contact the HOA and return their money. Again, a certified letter was sent and returned undelivered.
The British Consulate is in Presidio Terrace and it is embarrassing to say the least that San Francisco sold both the street and the common areas around the consulate and didn’t notify the British Government.
Congregation Emanu-El [a Jewish temple based on Lake Street] abuts the property and they noted in public testimony that the HOA has been extremely cooperative in providing assistance ensuring their security, a matter of grave concern in these times.
And I could not understand why the new “owners” made no attempt over the last two years to contact the HOA and allowed the HOA and residents to maintain the property at their own expense.
If these were serious and responsible owners, they would have engaged the residents and taken over the costs of maintaining the roadway and the considerable landscaping maintenance.
The Treasure’s office does indeed return “excess proceeds” from tax sales to the former owners of auctioned properties, provided they apply for the funds within a certain period of time. The Presidio Terrace residents were unaware of the sale for two years.
The British Consulate’s office in San Francisco is on Sansome Street, but British Consul General Andrew Whittaker himself lives on Presidio Terrace and showed up to Tuesday’s hearing to complain that he wasn’t sufficiently notified of the street sale.
District Four Supervisor Katy Tang explained her vote to Curbed SF with the following statement:
I agree with every point that Supervisor Sheehy made. I couldn’t have said it better. I would also add that I based my decision not only on state law requirements, but also on what our U.S. Constitution requires when someone is being deprived of their property—due process.
The Supreme Court and California Appellate courts in several decisions stated specific examples of what is considered reasonable notice. This could include posting notices on site.
None of these decisions distinguish between occupied or unoccupied properties when it comes to noticing requirements. And yet, the practice of the Treasurer’s Office has been to distinguish between occupied and unoccupied properties when it comes to noticing and follow-up actions.
I believe people feel uncomfortable with the decision by the Board of Supervisors because wealthy individuals live in this area. However, our decisions cannot be based on whether we like a certain group of people or not.
Our decisions must be based on facts and laws. Regardless of whether this situation involved rich or poor people, I would have arrived at the exact same decision based on the facts and the law.
Supervisors Mark Farrell (whose district covers Presidio Terrace), London Breed, Malia Cohen, Sandra Fewer, and Ahsha Safai also voted to overturn the sale but have not yet returned requests for comment.