Asian Couple Sues San Francisco to Reclaim Exclusive Street Meant to Keep ‘Orientals’ Out

Tina Lam and Michael Cheng, the Asian American couple who bought a private street in San Francisco and then lost it after city leaders voted to reverse the sale, are now suing the city to get it back.

When the homeowners learned that the Bay Area couple purchased the dead-end street at Presidio Terrace for $90,000 in 2015,  they protested and brought the issue before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The homeowners have sought that the sale should be voided, citing concerns the new property owners will charge them for parking in the 120 parking spaces on the street.

It was reportedly due to delinquent non-payment of county property taxes by the homeowners association that led to the sale of the actual street, the sidewalks and all other “common ground,” including garden islands and palm trees to the couple in 2015.

Lam and Cheng, who live in San Jose, said they had plans to charge rent on-street parking spots. “I’m an engineer with a simple dream of owning a piece of San Francisco,” Lam said during the hearing. “I’m not rich enough to live on that street, but I like to think that by owning it, I’m a San Franciscan in spirit.”

At the hearing in November, the council members voted 7-4 in favor of the residents of the very wealthy neighborhood. After the vote, Supervisor Mark Farrell referred to the couple as “bottom-feeding pirates attempting to extort and hold San Francisco residents hostage.”

Undeterred by the decision, the couple, a Silicon Valley engineer wife and her real estate investor husband decided to sue the city to win their street back. They have since launched a GoFundMe page with a target goal of $50,000 to finance the legal action. The page titled the “Presidio Terrace defense fund” has so far raised $2,100 as of this writing.

“This fight is not just about the street. This is about defending property rights for everyone who is not super wealthy or doesn’t look a certain way,” the couple wrote on their GoFundMe page.

Lam and Cheng have already filed a lawsuit against the city with the San Francisco Superior Court.

The very wealthy neighborhood, which consists of 36 large lots, has a single privately owned street with a two-way access road leading to a one-way elliptical cul-de-sac.

Originally marketed to white residents only in the 1900s, Presidio Terrace once had a brochure that said: “There is only one spot in San Francisco where only Caucasians are permitted to buy or lease real estate or where they may reside. That place is Presidio Terrace.”

Such homeownership restrictions would only be invalidated in 1948 via Supreme Court case Shelley v. Kraemer which banned enforcement of racial covenants nationwide. The monumental case eventually led to the absence of legally sanctioned segregation of the San Francisco’s neighborhoods.

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