Public hearing set for sale of San Francisco street

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-09-08 12:00

The sale of a private street in one of San Francisco's richest neighborhoods to a Chinese- American couple will get a public hearing.

The city's Board of Supervisors decided at a meeting on Tuesday that it would hold the hearing on Nov 28 to consider whether to rescind the sale of Presidio Terrace.

Michael Cheng and Tina Lam, both San Jose-based real estate investors, bought the block-long street lined by 35 multimillion-dollar mansions, the sidewalks and other common ground, for a little more than $90,000.

It was put up for sale in an online auction two years ago by the city's tax office due to the previous owner's failure to pay $14 tax for three decades. The city was seeking to recover $994 in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.

The homeowners association that oversees the private street - one of 181 private roads in San Francisco - wasn't aware of the sale until a title company hired by the Chengs contacted them in May. The association has since filed a lawsuit challenging the sale and is asking the supervisors to rescind it.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents the district that includes Presidio Terrace, said at Tuesday's meeting that the board should "get to the bottom of what happened," including whether property owners were properly notified.

Cheng, who was at the meeting, said the couple would back the city's sale of the street to them as they were on the same side of the lawsuit and that a hearing was a waste of the city government's time and money.

The Presidio homeowners association said the tax bills were sent to an incorrect address and that the city had an obligation to post a notice in Presidio Terrace notifying the residents of the pending auction back in 2015.

Cheng said everything the city did was correct. "The association made a mistake for over 30 years and the city rectified it. We happened to be the one who bought it," he said.

"We see ourselves as new neighbors to the association; our stance has been 'Let's work it out as neighbors'," said Cheng. "But they never approached us."

The homeowners association, which had managed the street and other common areas since 1905, seems to doubt the Chengs when they said they have no intention of selling the street.

"Among all the things I've ever heard of bought as San Francisco keepsakes, a $90,000 real estate parcel is the most unusual," Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the Presidio homeowners association, told China Daily.

"The homeowners' interest in buying the property back was implicit in the inquiries made by the new owners' representatives. In fact, one of their representatives' emails made explicit reference to 'what their position might be about getting the property back'", said Dorsey.

The association's attorney, Scott Emblidge, called the couple "savvy real estate professionals" who waited for more than two years to approach the homeowners' group, "presumably so the property sale would be more difficult to rescind."

"We are not savvy. We are learning. We now learn more, but that's after two years of very long digging, trying to figure this out," Cheng said.

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