Mission Greenway putting plants in Parcel 36
Members of the neighborhood advocacy group Mission Greenway put a raised garden bed at Parcel 36, the 23,522-square-foot space between Harrison and 22nd streets and Treat Avenue and 23rd Street, on Oct. 22, 2022. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Creely.

This weekend, about a dozen neighbors placed around 10 raised beds, fresh soil and plants at Parcel 36, the railroad right-of-way that cuts diagonally from Harrison and 22nd streets to 23rd Street and Treat Avenue — 23,522 square feet of space without a title-holder that has, for decades, been claimed and fenced off by neighbors who have used it for parking.

The group of neighbors behind the Saturday action, Mission Greenway, had planned to enter through the southwestern fence, which is often open, said Tree Rubenstein, who has, for many years, envisioned turning the space into a greenway, and who started a Sunday market nearby where free produce is distributed. 

When the gate wasn’t open, the group sawed through a locked chain link at the northeastern fence and added their lock around the previous lock, creating a daisy chain lock that allows those able to open either lock to open the fence.

“It’s kind of like putting a flag up, saying, ‘We think it’s better these days to have this space … a green walking space, and the cars and parking or driving through there is not compatible,’” said Rubenstein, an urban agriculturalist and public greenway advocate who was also behind the creation of Parque Ninos Unidos. “This temporary garden is just to, first of all, give people an idea of an alternative, rather than the way it’s been for years.”

Neighbors in the surrounding blocks overwhelmingly support the idea of transforming the space into a public greenway, members of Mission Greenway said. But there is also a minority of stakeholders next to Parcel 36 — the Mission Kids preschool, condominium tenants and the owner of the historic warehouse adjacent to the lot, James Heinzer — who have keys to the southwestern fence and have declined to share a copy of those keys with Mission Greenway.

Zach Klein, the co-founder of Vimeo and a neighbor at Mission Greenway, had posted videos of the Saturday action on Twitter on Monday and drew numerous mixed responses.

“Their desire to use it as private parking is no more entitled than our right to make it a green space, and so in this moment where there’s a lack of clarity about who owns that land, we think it is important that we try to demonstrate a use case that has a greater benefit for the most number of neighbors,” he told Mission Local. “We’re proposing that in this time of unclarity that there be a conversation and that we invite input.”

The Twitter post rubbed some the wrong way. Max, a resident of the Treat Street condominium adjacent to Parcel 36, said he felt the action was intended to create a spectacle.

Klein told Mission Local that he has since spoken with numerous neighbors and felt sympathetic to how people are afraid of change. He said that people who initially seemed in opposition tended to ease up once they understood how long Mission Greenway had been attempting to make headway on transforming the space.

“I’ve received a lot of support, some negativity, but the negativity has been mostly in the minority,” he said

As of Tuesday morning, more than a dozen cars were lined up next to the preschool and the condominium in the southwestern corner of the parcel.

On the other end of the parcel, someone had removed the Mission Greenway lock. Rubenstein said the group hasn’t yet made plans to replace the lock, but Mission Greenway plans to enter through the frequently open southwestern fence to tend to the temporary garden.

Elizabeth Creely, who reported on the parcel extensively for Mission Local and later became a member of Mission Greenway, wrote in 2017 that the parcel had “started life in 1860 as the right-of-way for the short-lived San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Company.”


Creely wrote that a man named John Center “was the last clear owner and possessor of a deed. Today, only wildly contradictory information about the real owner exists. According to Gina Simi, communications manager for the San Francisco Planning Department, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company (SPTC) owns it. This isn’t possible: That company was acquired in 1996 by Union Pacific Railroad Corporation, a publicly traded company.”

“They might have right of use because no one can arrest them, but an easement is a formal decision rendered by a court, and to the best of my knowledge, no such decision since 1994 has been made,” Creely told Mission Local on Tuesday. “There are lots of claims and lots of people’s ideas, and none of them have moved through a judicial prism.”

The Assessor-Recorder’s Office and the Office of Supervisor Hillary Ronen didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saturday’s action came after around a decade during which Rubenstein and other neighbors reached out to community members and attempted to gain access to the parcel, a space where they have as much entitlement to as the neighbors who have long claimed the space for themselves, the group has said. But to the neighbors who live adjacent to it — tenants of the adjacent condominium on Treat Street, and the Mission Kids preschool — the Saturday action represented a violation of trust and concerns about safety, respectively. 

“We all like the idea of having a nicer space back there, because right now it’s kind of abandoned,” said Max, who lives in the condominium. “We told them we’ll help you plant, and they kind of just went rogue, which was very surprising to us.”

It also comes after artists who had opposed the transformation were evicted, with the warehouse going up for sale in September, which meant it could be an opportunity to raise awareness that the space could be used for something other than parking, Rubenstein said.


Delays, Disagreements and Disconnects

With no city authority giving guidance about who actually has claim to the lot, and with no clear title to the space, those with the key to the fences ultimately control who can access the parcel. 

Around 18 cars or so will park there on weekdays, the majority of them owned by parents and teachers of children at the preschool, and a few owned by condo residents, Rubenstein told Mission Local.

Members of Mission Greenway had met with the condominium owners on Oct. 5, but it appears that the two groups had divergent ideas of what to temporarily do with the space and didn’t make much headway. There seemed to also be a lack of clear communication on some points of the meeting, with the two groups on different pages about what would happen next, especially concerning parking and security.

The tenants had concerns about the security of their buildings, the maintenance of the plants and a rodent problem being worsened if edible plants were in the space, according to Max, the condo resident. And whereas one of the condo residents, James, had submitted a rendering, Rubenstein said the measurements of the sketch that concerned parking didn’t appear accurate, and he requested another one but hadn’t heard back; the groups had also disagreed on how much parking should be allotted for the tenants, said Rubenstein and Lara, a neighbor of Mission Greenway.

Meanwhile, Christina Maluenda and Heather Lubeck, co-directors at Mission Kids, told Mission Local that that previous breaches to the fence during construction next door led to “immediate and significant increase in trash, needles, condoms and other detritus left behind and within children’s reach.” 

They said it “seems that the illegal actions of a few people have put our students in harm’s way. Unsecure fencing of the spur could lead to attempted break-ins along our side yard fence line which was not designed or built to be facing out to public land.”

Rubenstein said he didn’t understand the concern, given that the preschool has a fence around its property and a gate.

To Lara, the preschool has been overly cautious about people having access to the parcel — on Monday, she was stopped from taking pictures of the parcel and numerous cars parked next to the preschool’s outdoor fence with the cars obscuring any kids from the camera, being told not to take pictures of children.

“It’s a really aggressive tactic to make it seem that the school feels unsafe with anyone in the parcel, and thus trying to lay claim on the parcel, for ‘the children’s safety.’ While these children are behind a rigid fence. All the while the school constantly posts images of children on their public Instagram page,” Lara said. “Some preschools I am familiar with don’t even have any outdoor space, such as the Haight Ashbury Nursery, who’s doors open directly onto a public playground. But Mission Kids, with their multiple private outdoor spaces, still find ways to complain about feeling ‘unsafe.’”

Moving Forward

Rubenstein said he’d be open to having mediator if that would help with community meetings. Max, the condo resident, said he’s open to attending further meetings to rebuild trust that he felt had been violated.

In the meantime, area residents appear to overwhelmingly support the idea of a long-term green space.

The rare instances of opposition seen by Mission Greenway tend to come from a minority of neighbors who live just around the parcel, whereas neighbors who live farther away in the neighborhood tend to be more supportive, according to Creely.

Jemil Ezzet and Janet DeMartini, two neighbors who live on Treat Avenue along the lot, said they would support having it turned into a green space.

“I would definitely love it to be a public green area,” Ezzett said.

Evie, another neighbor on the block, was vehemently opposed to the area becoming a public space. 

From Friday to Sunday, she said, it’s normal to see people who are drunk or drug-dealing along the block, often hanging out in front of the condominium or at Parque Ninos Unidos.

“I don’t think the parcel should be open to the public. I don’t want another park,” she said. “This is my house. This is my neighborhood. No. Do it somewhere else.”

Klein, of Mission Greenway and Vimeo, said he had spoken with parents, who told him they love the convenience of being able to park there and that it created a quiet space inside the school that allowed their children to nap. He had also heard from residents who said they wanted a seat at the table to discuss the parcel. 

“Right now, they can’t be confident that we are the best partners, even though we feel we are good partners because of our intentions and capabilities,” he said. “I think the burden is on us to distinguish ourselves and make ourselves a trustworthy and creative partner that they can collaborate with.”

Follow Us

David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Hi I was one of those artists, it’s not that we opposed the idea, it’s that “tree” doesn’t listen. Any discussion of our concerns like our building easements for our loading dock area was met with a blank stare, any mention of the security issues and zoning for fire truck access was met with a shrug. Then members of the greenway group left dog shit on our door step because we wouldn’t buckle to their demands. We had several meetings with them about it and no one wanted to work with that group because they were hell bent on an “action”. They would walk back there and mean mug us while we worked on the loading dock one guy seemed like he wanted to fight me. Like I said it’s not that we were opposed, it’s that that group of people is toxic, do not listen, and lie constantly to advance their agenda. We loved that building and our neighbors and am sorry they have to deal with that group.

    1. I’d also like to add, that they have the support of million dollar home owners on the surrounding streets and had no support from the neighbors who live and work adjacent to the property, even though everyone liked the idea. No one’s concerns were ever addressed. Does anyone think the administration of mission kids wants to be involved with this? A constant borderline harassment from the new comer nimby’s? Media coverage that has photos being shot of the school? The answer is no, and yet it’s another example of the greenway group not acting neighborly. Yuck

    2. Second in addition, all the people faking outrage at the photographer being asked not to shoot pictures of the school and kids obviously don’t have kids in the school.

  2. Or you could just give it to an Ohlone land trust and let them decide since they are the original owners and never ever get a seat at the table on these issues.

    1. Who’s “you”? No one can give the land to anyone, since no one has clear title.

      Maybe the city should seize it by eminent domain just to create some legal clarity.

  3. It’s possible to turn this space into city-wide magnet by doing something nobody is yet doing in this country. Turn part of it into a native butterfly sanctuary. A fellow at the SF Arboretum is in charge of their pipevine plants and the big beautiful blue and black Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies that breed in them. He could be asked to do the same for a small part of this space. And there are other butterfly species which could be the center of a project like this, Western Ladies, I saw one at the Arboretum yesterday. Red Admirals and Monarchs come to mind. In a green space you need the beauty of wildly colored butterflies to make nature come alive.

  4. Bellyaching about (free) parking is pretty much non-stop in San Francisco. Minor exceptions have been made by some people for (privatized property) “Shared Spaces” for some restaurants in some neighborhoods. I first heard wails about how hard it was to find parking in San Francisco more than fifty years ago.

    The preschool’s directors seem to be unaware that green space and activating disused streets, lots and odd parcels is better for everyone, including the kids at their school. In no way am I trying to diminish the concerns for children’s safety, privacy and well-being. However, if a vacant lot with no ongoing activation hasn’t become a huge nuisance and profoundly unsafe for those kids, it is hard to imagine how some vegetables, flowers, trees and benches will accomplish that.

    Tenderloin Community School likely has the most safety and public health problems of any school in San Francisco. We have somewhat successfully created a pop-up semi-official School Street on Elm Street, the alley behind the school. Across Elm Street there is a fenced vacant lot (the McDonald’s closed eight years ago). It has been used as a staging area for Walsh Construction during construction of the Van Ness BRT project, and now Phoenix Electric has a short-term lease.

    The kids’ space activation of Elm Street and construction-related temporary tenancies opposite the school have not prevented nuisances or dangerous situations for the students and their families.

    Yesterday, a child on the way to school was chased by someone pushing a Recology bin.

    Earlier this week, we had a violent confrontation with someone who refused to leave. As this was going on, I asked an arriving student if he was alright. He replied, “It’s okay. I’m used to it because it happens all the time.” It is intolerable that what he said is true – and it is worse that he is inured to hostility and violence in his neighborhood.

    As I was setting up the street for dismissal time a few weeks ago I was confronted by an unhinged man wielding a twelve-inch kitchen knife. I was merely trying to pick up the eight or ten used syringes scattered around him. (FYI: the two sheriff deputies at the Community Justice Center at the end of the block couldn’t be bothered to help out. They did say they’d “call it in,” but no police ever arrived.)

    Last month, a parent of a preschool child found a baggie of fentanyl in the alley.

    Syringes, multiple weapons, piss and shit, rotting food, dumped construction debris, broken glass, used fentanyl foil, vomit, abandoned cars parked in the school bus zone, yelling and fights during school hours… Those are things that I deal with every morning and every afternoon as I try to create a safe, healthy and happy space for a few hundred young friends.

    Despite two state of emergency declarations (COVID, TL Emergency Plan) the city has been inexcusably slow to work with us, though we recently made some progress. Mission Kids (and Mission kids) should be happy to have a neighborhood groups interested in creating a garden on the old railway right of way.

  5. Max and Evie want private free parking, well too bad. Selfish people!
    I hope this becomes a true community garden. And Max can whine all he wants, but he is not the owner and has no right to park there. I really hope those who object just move to a suburb and make everyone happy.

  6. The City should seize this parcel by eminent domain, build mixed-income/affordable rental housing, and provide a small secured community garden for public use. Problem solved all-around. Hillary Ronen, are you listening?

  7. Green space for the public sounds like a good idea.

    This project is the brainchild of a peaceful hippie who was displaced into the Mission in the 1970s by the “urban renewal” that decimated the Fillmore District. He has been working on it for many years, and I support his efforts.

    In contrast, some selfish property owners and business interests want to control the land for their own benefit with no due process. They have no clear title to justify their seizure of the land.

  8. With all due respect to Zach, many people have been using the lot for personal
    gain and convenience for years simply by controlling access illegally. The burden
    is not on Mission Greenway advocates to distinguish ourselves. The burden is on
    the people who use the space as a dump and parking lot.

    1. Or vice versa. I don’t see that you have anymore of entitlement to that space than they have. However, they were there first. Possession is 9/10ths of the law. And showing up up with bolt cutters is an ugly, arrogant, aggressive move. If as you say you spoke to people who live around the perimeter and they had buy in then why weren’t those gates thrown open for you? Let me answer that for you. Because you did it wrong. Many people might have loved the idea of a Greenway. Including myself. But you blew it with your tone deaf post on Instagram. Good luck trying to get their help, support and cooperation in the future. Btw the article says you will now enter through the gate that is most often open. Why the bolt cutters in the first place? For show?

  9. A few clarifications: 
 I was on the sidewalk taking a few photos of the parcel at large. A dozen cars were parked bumper to bumper obscuring the entire outdoor school area, which was nowhere close to me.
 Get real people. “We told them we’ll help you plant, and they kind of just went rogue”: 
Max demanded we carve 6 parking spots for the condominium of at least 10 feet width each, of which he claimed was an “officially” required width-minimum, which I later learned is not true at all. We then heard him whisper to his neighbours that “we really want 8 spaces, so we have enough space for guests”. The condominium has 6 units of which only 4 are occupied. Two come with private parking. Yet we were told to carve out 60 feet so that the condo owners can have private guest-parking. To me, this simply went too far. His tone was aggressive, and I personally felt unwilling to continue being used to create (guest) parking in return for a key to a parcel they don’t own. It felt like bribery. 
 If we fence off every street where a person has slept at night, or a murder once happened (the supposed reason this parcel got illegally fenced off in the 1980s), we would live in a prison. Acknowledge the neighbourhood you live in, attempt to create positive change, but if all you do is complain about the way it is, then you live in separation of your community, and in that sense, are part of the “problem”, just like the (very) white guy yelling “coloniser” out of his car yesterday, and a threatening “where do you live!?”, not caring his young kid is in the back, while we were minding our business on the parcel.

    1. Good point. If any representatives of the Ohlone people wanted to weigh in on this topic, I’d support their preferences on what should be done with this land.

  10. People should not be taking photos of children. Period. And this is one of the activists causing problems with the children. What happens when people want to do drugs there or set up camp?

    1. That is a really good point! I can see this area turning into a massive campsite drug infested mess!

    2. I plan to go over and take pictures, touch me and I’ll call 911. I do not want pics of kids, but entitled condo owners who think they have a right to free parking.

  11. Who is this person being offended by being told not to take photos of children?? Every school has a policy to not allow random people to photograph the children.

    1. I think it’s clear the person was not taking photos of children but of the lot and parcel from a distance and the school is playing off the fear of pedophiles to try to keep their parking .

    2. A school’s policies and at the property line. According to the article, the photographer was taking pictures of the lot and fencing; any children captured in the picture were 1) out in public, and 2) incidental. #1 makes it 100% legal and #2 shows that they weren’t “taking pictures of children.”

      Anyone that has taken photos at a theme park has albums full of random children. This isn’t a story about children’s safety; this is a story about using children as a political tool.

      1. Mission Kids uses Ninos Units almost everyday. People are out taking pictures there and I’ve never heard MK hounding them.

        This whole issue is all about parking in this car centered culture. If the the city took out the curb cuts, banning parking, there would be zero issues.

        Want to ruin everyone’s day? Start advertising free parking in the lot and what MK and the condo owners howl as their precious parking lot is overrun.

    3. No, they don’t. If you’re standing on public property, you have a 1st amendment right to photograph anything you can see.

  12. With so many homeless in the area… why not turn this into a homeless center or at least a temporary camp? Or is stolen parking or a free garden for a few rich people more important than lives? Especially come this winter? This would be a perfect place for those less fortunate who really need help.

    1. One side of this lot is directly adjacent to a preschool’s play yard. That makes who has access to it a sticky issue. It is certainly not an appropriate place for a homeless encampment.

      1. MK was formerly housed on Van Ness in a building that served as a homeless shelter every night. They even took the kids on a tour of the homeless shelter in thier former building, as well as tours of Martin De Poress food kitchen.

        This has zero to do with homeless and 100% to do with parking.

        1. For the record. How do you plan to maintain this Greenway? How do you plan to keep it free of encampments? Clear of needles, trash, maintain gardens etc. Who will you work with? How will you raise money for maintenance. How will you work to gain the trust and cooperation of the people who live around the perimeter who have very real concerns. I would like to hear solid and convincing arguments. Because I have seen many many failed attempts to plant gardens in the mission that later become trashy and neglected after people grow bored with their pet project. I think the onus is on you to convince people, to gain their support and to work with the neighborhood to achieve this. The bolt cutters really left such a bad taste in people’s mouth. Even ones who might have been supportive.

        2. “MK was formerly housed on Van Ness in a building that served as a homeless shelter every night. They even took the kids on a tour of the homeless shelter in thier former building, as well as tours of Martin De Poress food kitchen.”
          Indeed they did.
          Mission Kids is also a cooperative. With strong roots in the community. Every parent works a shift and must volunteer and contribute. How is it that they are your enemy?

    2. horrible idea Alex. Wake up. We spend billions on homelessness, most refuse services. If you feel for them so much share your apartment, don’t ruin the neighborhood.