The fence at the northeast corner of parcel 36.
The fence at the northeast corner of parcel 36. Photo taken April 14, 2023.

On Wednesday evening, the San Francisco Board of Appeals voted unanimously to revoke a seemingly minor permit that gave local business Monkeybrains permission to replace a fence on the hotly contested parcel 36.

At the end of the three-hour-long meeting, the board also decided to draft a letter pleading with elected officials and city staff to find a lasting solution regarding how the slice of land, which cuts between 22nd and Harrison streets and Treat Avenue, is used.

“The city needs courageous leadership to take charge on issues like this,” said board member Alex Lemberg. “And we’re just not seeing it.”

The permit in question would have given Monkeybrains, which owns a warehouse adjacent to parcel 36, permission to rebuild a fence at the contested land’s northeast edge. The appeal was brought by Mission Greenway, the guerilla gardener group that staked its claim to the space late last year when it cut the locks on the parcel’s gates and installed planters.

The Board of Appeals only had jurisdiction over the status of the fence permit, and ultimately blocked it because Monkeybrains does not own parcel 36. But beyond their limited ability to intercede on this particular permit, the board was clearly confused and frustrated by the situation on the parcel.

Map by Will Jarrett. Basemap from Mapbox.

“It’s, like, a classic creative fact pattern for a property law final,” said board member Jose Lopez.

“This is the most obvious use case for eminent domain I have ever seen,” said Lemberg, referring to the legal practice of a government body taking over private land for public use.

Board chair Rick Swig ultimately suggested that the board send a letter to Supervisor Hillary Ronen to “ask her to do her job” and find a solution to the ongoing dispute.

But last week, Ronen’s representative, Santiago Lerma, said that the idea that Ronen or the board of supervisors “can make a decision on the parcel’s use or ownership is patently false.” He said that while the parcel owner was unknown, parcel 36 is not public, and was therefore beyond their ability to act.

Board member J.R. Eppler said that the Assessor-Recorder’s Office, the Treasurer’s Office, and the Recreation and Parks Department should all be contacted too, as he perceived the unclear status of the parcel to be a “departmental error.”

“It’s a departmental error that actually harms the city, because it’s not collecting taxes or putting the parcel to public use, either of which would be better than the current state,” said Eppler. “And I say that with sympathy to both sides on this.”

Parcel 36 has long been used for private parking and vehicle access for adjacent businesses. Monkeybrains’ co-founders, Alex Menedez and Rudy Rucker, said that they need the space for loading and unloading from their warehouse, and that replacing the current chain-link fence with a sturdier iron fence would “reduce neighborhood blight and increase safety and security for the adjoining businesses.”

Members of Mission Greenway said they were concerned that a new fence would be used to keep them off the land, which they intend to convert into public green space. The land has had no clear ownership for decades, despite being fenced off.

At the end of the night, the board implored the two groups involved in the dispute, Mission Greenway and Monkeybrains, to find a way to compromise and share the space.

“I don’t see bad actors on either side of this,” said Lopez. “I wish we could settle this this evening, and I’m sorry we can’t do that for you. But in the meantime, we really need you all to work together.”

The Board of Appeals. Screenshot from meeting on April 26, 2023.

The fence permit was revoked on the grounds that Alex Menendez, co-owner of Monkeybrains, claimed on his application form that an LLC affiliated with his company owned the land the fence sits on. Although Monkeybrains has paid more than $20,000 in back taxes on the parcel, it does not own the land.

Menendez and his business partner Rudy Rucker said that there was no field on the form to specify that they had a prescriptive easement — meaning a right to use land owned by another because of historic use — so Menendez filled in the “owner” box instead. Menendez said that he filled out the form with advice from staff at the Department of Building Inspection.

“I think DBI is ill prepared for easement owners pulling permits,” said Rucker, referring to the Department of Building Inspection. “We feel the board took the conservative out and did not address our rights as easement holders.”

Their argument did not convince the board members or assembled city department experts. Tina Tam, an assistant director at the Planning Department, recommended that the permit be nixed on the grounds that Monkeybrains did not own the land it was related to.

DBI’s chief inspector, Matthew Greene, concurred. Greene added that the department does not recognize prescriptive easements and would only consider written easements, such as those in a deed or issued in a court order.

Greene also revealed that neither the fence in question, nor the fence on the west side of the parcel, were actually built with permits. He said that if a complaint were to be made about the fences, they would certainly be found to violate city building codes but added, given the parcel’s unclear ownership: “Who would we send the notice of violation to?”

Although the permit to replace the northeast fence was revoked, the parcel’s existing fences will continue to stand.

This was not the first complaint made against Monkeybrains since they moved into their new warehouse, but it was the first that led to construction work being halted. At least 10 anonymous complaints regarding Monkeybrains have been sent to DBI in the past two months.

Most of the complaints were dismissed while one led to Monkeybrains being issued a new permit for roof repairs. Rucker characterized the complaints as a strategy to “continuously pester” the business.

Elizabeth Creely, who appealed the fence permit on behalf of Mission Greenway, said after the meeting that she was “incredibly pleased and so grateful to the commission” for their decision.

“It was issued under false pretenses, and needed to be revoked,” she said.

Disclosure: Mission Local and Monkeybrains have a barter arrangement, exchanging advertising for service. Elizabeth Creely was formerly a Mission Local contributor.

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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  1. It was confirmed by the City Attorney at the Board of Permit Appeals Hearing, that no written easement for Monkey Brains exists. They also did not confirm whether or not Monkey Brains has a prescriptive easement due to any historical use of the property. A quick review of online historical aerial photos, dating back to 1935, show that the Railroad stopped using this parcel of land as a Railroad right of way in 1948. The Board of Permit Appeals asked Monkey Brains if they were planning to seek adverse possession of Parcel 36 by paying back taxes on property whose Ownership is in limbo, and they refused to answer that question.

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    1. Michael,

      In my opinion as a very nosey person I think the parties should work together to keep the City out of the matter.

      I was just there with Rudy and Alex and Jay Martin and Laura Hornug (not sure of last name on her but she’s the fiery little brunette – no offense intended – who stole the Appellant’s side in the Appeals hearing)

      So, Jay and Laura were supervising delivery of couple of truck loads of dirt and we went inside Monkey Brains where they are installing a half dozen or more really heavy duty sky lights that I’m guessing are about ten feet long and four or so wide. That’s really cool. No work going on with the renovation so we had the building to ourselves.

      Alex (he’s the fiery one on the Monkey Brains side) and Jay got to looking at the Gomez Iron Works fence parts and it is beautiful work as all who see it would agree.

      Rudy and Alex always go first class with their business if not their wardrobes. (joke)

      The heavy duty sky lights will last a hundred years and any pipes or stuff sticking through the roof and other edges are pretty much prepped after which they’ll reroof the entire thing.

      Monkey Brains employees have full benefits and they work for some happy customers (I’m one and 35 bucks a month for a constant gigabyte ain’t bad, Charlie) who like paying a third of what they were paying before to go online and stick it to the man.

      Or, watch porn maybe, whatever floats your boat.

      Jay Martin is a really mellow guy and he calmed Alex some discussing the fence. I want to see what that’s like in concrete pillars replacing the old chain link.

      I thought the dirt was great and Alex and Rudy were pissed cause it blocks their straight path from the gate to their docks.

      I told em I liked the dirt and they could drive around it and the big thing ?

      The big thing I was telling Rudy and Alex about earlier at Manny’s for lunch that Greenway might not like it but they are providing the best free security you could get for the rear of their building.

      Cause, as is obvious if you ever even approach the fences from either side, someone will show up and challenge you.

      Folks, where I come from that kind of security costs money on a 24/7/365 basis and that’s how closely Laura and Jay and Greenway watch their plants.

      Anyway, Laura reminds me of Abbie Hoffman cause she does not compromise and neither did Abbie and he told all of us two things you won’t believe.

      First, he said never to compromise in a battle and added …

      “That’s what we have lawyers for.”

      Laura ain’t a compromiser.

      And, you know what second thing he said was …

      Some of us should join the Army to humanize it.

      I joined the navy instead and Rome and Paris were nice.

      Alex is much the same temperament as Laura.

      Gas and fire that pair.

      It was almost like being back in school getting in between kids bigger than you who had their backs up.

      I was looking for a little victory and anything would do.

      Oh yeah, there was the gate whose replacement Appeals nixed.

      I got Rudy and Alex to consider compromising on whether the gate on Monkey Brains side was locked or not.

      Greenway wants it unlocked or a key and I think that’s reasonable.

      Otherwise, the Gardeners will be in Full battle on both gates.

      Alex bought a big lock but I told him to use it on his chastity belt cause it was just a negative energy move and that Monkey Brains should make the first serious move toward a compromise by sharing that big ole padlock 24/7 or else it could end up like the other end of the parcel where Greenway is cutting off locks and someone is damaging their planters.

      At least they can have peace in our time at the Northern Gate I think it is.

      I don’t know if Rudy and Alex will be the ones to stop this cycle of escalation by sharing a key to that end of Parcel 36 but I sure hope they do.

      If you can tell, I’m loving this because I was and am a behavior teacher and I’ve worked with 14 year olds who were lots more dangerous and uncompromising as this group.

      Some people feed off this kind of conflict.

      I do, but I’m always breaking up fights in the playground or covering detention of visiting my students in Juvie.

      That lot ain’t Juvie and none of these people are, ‘Severely Emotionally Disturbed’ so I’m thinking the worst thing that will happen here is some really really hurt feelings and egos but that’s healthy in the long run.

      I learned as a firefighter that an ‘Emergency’ is when if you screw up your job someone dies. Everything else is just various levels of inconvenience.

      Let’s see if that North Gate is unlocked tonight.

      Go Niners !!



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  2. Nobody is mentioning the elephant in the room. Our state and city representatives removed the requirement for open space to crowd more humans into small units. Now we have humans that lack private yards on which to grow a garden or hang out alone at night looking up at the moon. Removing the open space requirement resulted fights over the space that is left.

    This is not the only park or garden in dispute. Many parks and outdoor areas have similar problems, but, they all lack one element that private backyards possed. They lack privacy and security. Not too many people are going to walk into a private yard and argue over their right to be there.

    It is time to revisit some of those assumptions that got us to this place before people lose their humanity over their desire and need to plant a garden or walk on clean mowed grass. Those are two of the most treasured memories from my childhood and I dare say many other people feel the same way.

    Do we need to conduct studies to prove that crowding people into small boxers resutls in a lot of anger, domestic abuse and fighting over space rights? Or can we just agree to role back some of the decisions that are causing the uptick in violence and anger before things continue to escalate?

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  3. Will,

    Creely runs the show for Greenway and is the one after Monkey Brains.

    She’s careful about liability.

    She noted that tho it was her people who cut the locks but that, of course, she didn’t do it herself, her friends did.

    At that point a weatherbeaten guy behind her in row 3 started jumping in his chair with a big smile.

    5 years ago Creely went to the Assessor’s Office to find out who owned the property and asked if the City was getting tax money from it.

    So, the Assessor started sending bills for 5 years to a dead address and when the tab reached $20,000 Monkey Brains paid it.

    This piece of land has been used as a Parking Lot for over 100 years, first for trains and now for cars.

    It’s fascinating as you see the 3 sides marking their territory for when it comes to trial or some kind of empowered hearing and the sides start showing why they should get first dibs.

    Guy whose huge condo development is opposite Monkey Brains has kept a huge dead and rusting crane parked on a piece of the lot adjoining his building which he also paved.

    Greenway’s Squatter’s Rights is a work in progress as they scatter wooden planter boxes at various points around the place.

    Monkey Brains paid ‘Creely’s taxes’ and tried to build a new gate and fence by Gomez Iron Works which is best in the City.

    I can see how this ends.

    It’s like three little dogs fighting over a big bone and someone (Creely) goes and tells the Assessor about the bone.

    Then, very large Developers grab the place and put some really really tall, ‘Scott Wiener’ Towers there.

    Go Warriors !!


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    1. What’s Creely’s grand plan? Best I can tell is it’s to use her friends in the press and social media to vilify neighborhood job creators so she can put a garden on toxic soil. Could she refocus those efforts on a proposal to remediate the soil? And build good will with adjacent properties?

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      1. Neighbor,

        As a pro in conflicts I’d say she’s there for the energy that comes off of low level conflict.

        That’s not a character flaw, but an advantage that you’re not only able to do your best in tense situations but that you choose work that puts you in those situations.

        I’m like her and I mean her no insult by that.

        I was a Navy Beach Jumper and a Firefighter and a Coach and Special Ed teacher because I thrive on conflict.

        She’s ‘lever puller’ and not a foot soldier.

        The joy is in manipulating people rather than in whatever the subject is at hand.

        I’m what George Gascon describes as a, ‘Grunt’.

        I work in cleaning gutters and they work in dirt.

        The curiosity is that while posters here speak of the need for a place for the kids to play they’re only showing they’ve never walked around this Parcel 36.

        No one has mentioned that there is a gorgeous park right across the street from this Parcel 36.

        I don’t mean down the street or a block over, but right exactly across the street and it’s a beauty.

        City does a great job on it which is cause this is a really nice neighborhood now and mostly residential.

        Go Niners !


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      2. Hyping up a tech company with Republican talking points (“job creators“) and inveighing ominously against a woman who wants to plant some plants for the public? That’s odd. I wonder how many of the comments here are on behalf of either the owners of the tech company or those who took this land for free private parking.

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        1. Ridiculing neighborhood jobs mostly for women and people of color? Casually dismissing the hard work of environmental remediation? Folks have to ask themselves if they’re okay being affiliated with the childish taunts and other shameless methods of Mission Greenway and its sympathizers. Yuck.

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  4. Following the trail of abandoned railroad tracks on a map, I wonder: who owns the former railroad land that is now Parque Ninos Unidos, and when did they take title? I assume Park Rec? Parque Unidos is fenced off, & probably locked at night. Park Rec is responsible for safety, liability & access issues.
    The former railroad right of way continues under 3141 23rd St, which is adjacent to a former warehouse (3145 23rd St). It contains a fenced off garden that is open to the public most days. Is it owned & maintained by the owner of 3145 St? When was the deed for 3141 23rd St transferred from the railroad, & to whom?
    For that matter, does Park Rec own the land used as community gardens in SF? Are these gardens locked at night? Who hauls away garbage? Are there rules about who gets a plot?
    As to preschool parking, for parents & staff:
    Banana Fana Preschool, at the corner of 23rd & Folsom, does not seem to have parking; how do they cope? SF Tikes Preschool, on S Van Ness near 23rd, did required neighborhood outreach & meetings. They stated that staff & kiddos would walk or use public transportation, no parking needed. Once the preschool opened, 5 or 6 parking spots in front were changed to passenger loading, at dropoff & pick up times.
    Is anyone using the former paint store at 23rd & Treat? It has parking places on 2 sides.
    The residents in the new condos (formerly Western Plywood) should get a chance to weigh in.
    They could demolish the decrepit restaurant supply store next to Parque Ninos. Parking could be an interim use.
    Whatever happens, there should be public notices & hearings about proposed changes in use.
    My sympathies are with Monkeybrains. They seem to be the grownups in the room. Of course they need to park near their loading dock. I hope they have a (prescriptive?) easement.
    Sup Ronen should step up & sort this out, do they research, maybe divide the usage 3 ways, and find various entities to take responsibility.

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    1. The preschool is concerned about safety for children. “Parking vs green space” is a myth concocted by Mission Greenway to bully adjacent properties. Misinformation is part of their PR strategy. Kind of like how Mission Greenway folks keep calling the preschool a corporate business, when really it’s a local nonprofit. Mission Greenway’s tactics are gross.

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  5. The childish and abusive behavior on all sides makes me glad the board ruled like it did. Let the money brains and the hippies feed the lawyers and the social media trolls in their own personal bureaucratic Hell and continue infecting the community with bad energy and hate.

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  6. Why isn’t Ronen’s office and other officials working to find the owner of the property? Someone owns it. Find out who and contact them. Make them pay the taxes or sell the land. This is not rocket science.

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    1. John,

      Believe me, they’ve all tried.

      Trail ends with some kind of trust the heirs created which went defunct decades ago.

      Commissioner Lopez is right in my opinion.

      The City should immediately begin eminent domain proceedings.

      Once the property is the property of the City then Supervisor Ronen (whom I think rocks along with her hubbie Francisco Ugarte who is chief of Public Defender Mano Raju’s Immigration Section) …

      once the property title is in the Mayor’s pocket … ???

      Go Warriors !!


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  7. Campers,

    Key points you did not mention was that Monkey Brains has not even moved in yet and are just trying to validate a pathway to the warehouse docks.

    A pathway that has existed for over 50 years.

    The Gardeners have been trying to prevent this by placing planter boxes across the route.

    Also, Rudy and Alex head a home-grown hippie minded concern employing 60 people.

    Preventing access to those docks threatens those jobs.

    Interestingly, the single positive comment supporting Monkey Brains came from the head of the Pre-School at the other end of the dock who are having a far more heated fight with the Trojan Horse gardener group.

    Atween that group are mixed the cops and threats of murder and sabotaged planters and cut locks and when I walked the Parcel yesterday with my dog the negative energy pulsed.

    I spoke to 3 or 4 people who came out to challenge me as I took photos and some video.

    Yeah, same people who want the lot to be free for anyone to walk through all agree that they don’t want everyone to be able to walk through the Parcel as they have for a hundred years.

    Everyone wants fences and gates and locks.

    I’m planning to start picking up trash there today.

    Orange Clemson cap and jersey and bag like always.

    Will these fighters for Community Access resist a member of the Community from entering the Parcel to pick up trash ?

    This could get interesting.

    Go Warriors !!


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    1. Self,

      I began my walk to the Pre-School and Greenway end of the property this morning.

      There were two very expensive locks held by a piece of chain worth more than the entire chain link fence.

      What a farce !

      As I suspected, as soon as I appeared with my orange Trash guy outfit a guy from Greenway approached me from within the compound.

      His name is Jay Martin and you couldn’t meet a nicer, more refined with the perfectly clipped beard and Gap casual wear.

      I talked to him for a half hour to an hour after we met at the other end of the property where the Monkey Brains warehouse is being renovated for business.

      He agreed to let me photograph him as did another guy who came over to join us from across the street and I forget his name but did not like his vibes one bit.

      I mentioned that I was a former behavior teacher and that his personality needed some work.

      Sometimes people react hostilely to my sincere professional opinions and that’s their right.

      So, the Monkey Brains end of the property was left open as they’ll have nothing to protect there until and unless they’re able to stash their little fleet of fully equipped utility pick-up trucks which Rudy and Alex have compressed into Mini-Martins.

      As a closer, keep this in mind.

      Rudy and Alex have had zero part in the property and threatened physical violence and sabotage the Gardeners and Pre-School crowd are visiting on one another.

      What this town really needs for this kind of situation is a small rubber marker on the Permit Counter at DBI that can stamp the word, ‘Other’ after the ‘Owner’ and ‘Agent’ designations regarding this type of permits which are rare as healthy Niner QB’s.

      Go Warriors !!


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  8. Seems like Mission Greenway thinks this entitled them to ownership of the parcel. It does not… Any organization can start a claim on this parcel and in the meantime there is a broken gate.

    The Greenway doesn’t have any more right to be there than anyone else and is severely non-inclusive of the full Mission community. Calle 24 or another more community minded group should throw their ring into the hat by plopping down their own “boxes” as their is no channel to dispute who can use it.

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    1. I think the point overlooked here, is that the Mission Greenway has worked with both Supervisor Ronan’s and SFDBI and Planning to determine the ownership, or lack thereof, of the property, so that they might begin raising funds to purchase lot 36 as open space.

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