In a 7 to 4 vote, the Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to rescind the sale of Presidio Terrace after an outcry from residents of the private street.
Supervisors Kim, Peskin, Ronen and Yee voted against the revocation of the sale.
The street—home mostly to wealthy residents—was sold in 2015 to a San Jose couple, Tina Lam and Michael Cheng, in an auction for $90,000 after the Presidio Terrace Association failed to pay its property taxes for several years.
The residents owed $994 after not paying the $14 yearly bill; this was the second time that the residents had lost ownership of the street for nonpayment of taxes.
Earlier this year, homeowners discovered the sale of their street. At the hearing, several residents—including Andrew Whittaker, the current British consul general for San Francisco—argued that the city had not done enough to alert them of the situation.
"We're here today because no one should be deprived of their property without due process," said attorney Scott Emblidge, who represented the homeowners.
However, José Cisneros, the city's tax collector, said his office sent several mailed notices to the address for the homeowner's association, but the notices were returned as the accountant had retired in the 1990s and the association did not update the address for the tax bills. The office had also posted the sale in the Examiner and on its website.
"What I want to be clear about today is we followed the rules in this case," Cisneros said, "and carried out this auction in the correct way."
The owners of the street said that they followed the law in the sale. "I'm just looking at it as a situation where I followed all the laws, the tax collector followed the laws," said Cheng, "and now we're being burdened by the fact that other people don't know the laws, and we're being penalized for their lack of knowledge about it."
"The fact is that's not an excuse for not following the law. We all know we've got to pay our taxes."
Supervisor Mark Farrell—who represents the area, and supported the rescission of the sale—said it was also a matter of policy. "Do we want to allow speculators, out-of-town, to bid on San Francisco pieces of property and purchase streets and then charge our residents for access to those streets?"
He noted that the new owners had offered to settle the matter and return the street for $950,000.
However, Supervisor Hilary Ronen, said that she did not believe that the treasurer acted unreasonably, and pointed out that the poor did not get second chances when they lost their property due to failure to pay property taxes.
"This case has viscerally impacted San Franciscans because there's no discretion in the law when it comes to poor people, there's no discretion in the law when it comes to people of color," she said.