Real-estate speculators bought the road and sidewalk in a gated wealthy San Francisco enclave

Presidio Terrace is a "block-long, private oval street lined by 35 megamillion-dollar mansions" dating to 1905, where the homeowners are obliged to pay the city $14/year for property tax on their sidewalk, road and traffic islands.

Since the 1980s, that $14 bill went unpaid, because it was sent to the address of an accountant who'd stopped working for the homeowners' association. Two years ago, the city of San Francisco put the street, sidewalk, etc up for sale to recover $994 in unpaid taxes.

A pair of property speculators called Tina Lam and Michael Cheng bought the property sight-unseen for $90,100. Now, having secured title insurance, they're trying to figure out how much they can soak the homeowners for in exchange for the right to use the sidewalks in front of their homes and park on the street where they live — and if they homeowners don't like it, neighbors might be invited in to rent the curb in front of those mansions for their own parking needs.

The speculators are of Chinese ancestry and the street is one that, until 1948, was locked up with "whites only" restrictive covenants that would have prevented them from living in any of the houses there.

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.

"I was shocked to learn this could happen, and am deeply troubled that anyone would choose to take advantage of the situation and buy our street and sidewalks," said one homeowner, who asked not to be named because of pending litigation.

Last month, the homeowners petitioned the Board of Supervisors for a hearing to rescind the tax sale. The board has scheduled a hearing for October.

In addition, the homeowners association has sued the couple and the city, seeking to block Cheng and Lam from selling the street to anyone while the city appeal is pending — a move residents fear could complicate their efforts to reclaim the land.

Rich SF residents get a shock: Someone bought their street
[Matier & Ross/SF Chronicle]