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Presidio Terrace: This is the second time residents lost their own street

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This is not a drill

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

Homeowners in ultra-wealthy Presidio Terrace were shocked in May to discover that their privately-owned street—as in the, lanes and sidewalks of the street itself, including over 100 potentially quite valuable parking spaces—sold at auction in 2015 because of a $14/year tax bill that went unpaid for some three decades.

But they shouldn’t have been, because something like this happened to the O-shaped avenue before.

Just when everyone thought this already baffling story couldn’t get any stranger, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross reported that almost this exact same scenario played out some 40 years ago. That time it was the state rather than the city that repossessed the roundabout.

San Francisco Assessor Carmen Chu tells us that her records show the Presidio Homeowners Association defaulted on its common-areas tax bill in the 1970s. Eventually, the state took possession of the common areas, and it wasn’t until 1985 that the association regained the title to its swanky sidewalks.

The street and sidewalks’ assessed value at the time was $221 — a figure Chu concedes was “super low.”

That timeline means that no sooner did the residents of Presidio Terrace get their street back then they almost immediately resumed not paying taxes on it.


For the record, the attorney presently representing the PTA in its lawsuit against the South Bay couple who bought the upscale pavement at auction for just over $90,000 questions whether or not this previous incident actually occurred.

The neighbors insist in the suit that it’s not their fault they missed the bills for several decades, as the city sent them to the office of a property management company they no longer contracted with.

In a response to that suit (filed on Wednesday), Tina Lam, one of Presidio Terrace’s new owners, alleged that the statute of limitations on the terrace-dwellers complaints about her purchase have already run out and that “plaintiff has unclean hands with respect to the matter at issue.”

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Turns out “unclean hands” is actually a legal term. Nevertheless, that still sounds like very deep shade being thrown. Lam’s lawyers continue:

The complaint is without merit because at all times defendant acted fairly and equitably in participating in a tax sale by the City and County of San Francisco, and any and all conduct of which the plaintiff complains was a just and proper exercise of discretion.

Defendant is discharged from all liability due to fully performing and discharging all duties in connection with the tax sale.

In other words: “We bought it fair and square.”

Note that nobody can conclusively say which party the law favors until the suit is resolved. The Presidio Terrace Association has also petitioned the Board of Supervisors to step in and reverse the sale, with a hearing set for October.

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