Heartbreaks of San Francisco’s Rich and Democratic–Asians Bought Their Street
Matier & Ross | on August 7, 2017
Tina Lam and Michael Cheng have bought Presidio Terrace, a private street lined with expensive homes. Residents apparently had no idea the common spaces were up for sale.
Thanks to a little-noticed auction sale, a South Bay couple are the proud owners of one of the most exclusive streets in San Francisco — and they’re looking for ways to make their purchase pay.
Tina Lam and Michael Cheng snatched up Presidio Terrace — the block-long, private oval street lined by 35 megamillion-dollar mansions — for $90,000 and change in a city-run auction stemming from an unpaid tax bill. …
Presidio Terrace (the small red arrow in the above photo) adjoins the golf course of The Presidio, the old military base (now a park) at the south end of Golden Gate Bridge, where the Army set up cannons to sink Queen Victoria’s dreadnoughts in case of invasion of America.
It’s a desirable address.
Now they’re looking to cash in — maybe by charging the residents of those mansions to park on their own private street.
Those residents value their privacy — and their exclusivity. Past homeowners have included Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her financier husband, Richard Blum; House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi; and the late Mayor Joseph Alioto. A guard is stationed round the clock at the stone-gate entrance to the street to keep the curious away.
So imagine the residents’ surprise when San Jose residents Cheng and Lam wound up with the street, its sidewalks and every other bit of “common ground” in the private development that has been managed by the homeowners since at least 1905. …
“We just got lucky,”said Cheng, a real estate investor.
The homeowners, however, are crying foul and want the Board of Supervisors to negate the sale.
The couple’s purchase appears to be the culmination of a comedy of errors involving a $14-a-year property tax bill that the homeowners association failed to pay for three decades. It’s something that the owners of all 181 private streets in San Francisco are obliged to do. …
The couple, however, say they’re in no hurry to sell.
“I’m a first-generation immigrant, and the first time I came to San Francisco I fell in love with the city,” said Lam, an engineer in Silicon Valley who was born in Hong Kong and came to the U.S. for college.
“I really just wanted to own something in San Francisco because of my affinity for the city,” Lam said.
There’s a bit of irony in the couple’s purchase. Until a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning the enforcement of racial covenants, homes in Presidio Terrace could be purchased only by whites.
Isn’t it fascinating how these days, even with the most Ayn Randish transactions — a couple of hard chargers buy a street and its sidewalks (privatizing sidewalks is second only to privatizing lighthouses in libertarian daydreaming) and are now figuring out how to charge users for it — somebody figures it’s in their interest to ladle on the identity politics. The hard chargers play the Immigrant Card while the newspaper pre-emptively accuses the other party of Historic White Privilege due to something that ended in the first half of the previous century …