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Rich Liberal San Francisco Residents Learn a Hard Lesson About Capitalism and Government

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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. They outlasted several other bidders.

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. That includes a string of well-coiffed garden islands, palm trees and other greenery that enhance the gated and guarded community at the end of Washington Street, just off Arguello Boulevard and down the hill from the Presidio.

“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.

Since the purchase in April 2015, the couple have been quietly sitting on the property, talking to a number of land-use attorneys to explore their options.

“We were looking to get title insurance so it could be marketable,” Cheng said.

He and his wife see plenty of financial opportunity — especially from the 120 parking spaces on the street that they now control.

“We could charge a reasonable rent on it,” Cheng said.

And if the Presidio Terrace residents aren’t interested in paying for parking privileges, perhaps some of their neighbors outside the gates — in a city where parking is at a premium — would be.

Unsurprisingly, the residents were more than a little upset when they belatedly found out what had happened.

They didn’t learn that their street and sidewalks had been sold until they were contacted May 30 by a title search company working on behalf of Cheng and Lam, said Emblidge. The title search outfit wanted to know if the residents had any interest in buying back the property from the couple, the lawyer said.

“There is nothing that our office can do” about the sale now, she added.

I think the Germans call it Schadenfreude – taking pleasure at the misfortune of others. And if the people living in that ritzy little oval are the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein, I’m practically giggly with it.

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