The San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week voted to hold a November hearing on the issue of the contested sale of a privately owned street to real estate investors who are, seemingly, trying to profit off of the negligence of a homeowners' association who forgot about a nominal property tax bill. Now, as the Chronicle is reporting, the homeowners have hired a former assistant city attorney to represent them, and a lobbying/PR team consisting of former city attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey, and Boe Hayward, a onetime chief of staff for ex-Supervisor Bevan Dufty, both of whom now work for local consultancy Lighthouse Public Affairs.
The story of the quiet sale of Presidio Terrace, an oval-shaped street at the edge of the Presidio that is home to 35 of the city's most expensive residences (including the former residences of Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi), made headlines last month because of what appeared to be a canny purchase by a South Bay couple who happened to catch that the street was going up for public auction. Michael Cheng and Tina Lam purchased the street, including its sidewalks and medians, in 2015 for $90,100 after the city's Treasurer sought to recoup $994 in back taxes, penalties, and interest from a $14/year property tax bill that had gone unpaid since the 1980's. The reason, as the homeowners will counter, was the city continued sending the bill to the office of an accountant on Kearny Street who retired in the 1980's, but the Treasurer's Office counters back that it was up to the homeowners, and not the city, to make sure that the mailing address was up to date. (Also, as it turns out, the issue of this bill being neglected had already come up before, and the homeowners' association had to fight to get back ownership of their street in the early 1980's.)
It remains to be seen whether the Supervisors will side with the homeowners, who feel that more should have been done to alert them of the sale which they didn't even realize had happened until earlier this year, when Lam and Cheng reached out to them via an intermediary to ask if they'd like to buy their street back. Also, it seems, they suggested they might like to start charging fees for street parking, in order to make money back on their investment.
Supervisor Mark Farrell, in whose district Presidio Terrace exists, last week said that the board needed to "get to the bottom of what happened," as NBC Bay Area reports. "I want to make sure we have all the facts," he said. "I want to understand what we can do better and put forward legislation to close any loopholes."
Progressive Supervisor Aaron Peskin has already signaled that he has no sympathy for the homeowners, saying to the Chronicle, "Unless they can show clearly and convincingly that proper procedures were not followed, I see no reason to rescind the sale."
Dorsey tells the paper that the homeowners acknowledge the "comedy of errors" here and accept some responsibility. But, he says, "[The] careless notification process by the treasurer/tax collector’s office fell far short of the legal standard for a reasonable effort."
We'll see how this plays out in November!