The parcel 36 garden alongside parked cars.
The parcel 36 garden alongside parked cars. Photo taken April 14, 2023.

A strange routine has sprung up at the hotly contested parcel 36.

Every week, someone from the Mission Kids preschool puts a new lock on the lot’s west gate. And, every week, someone from the guerilla gardening group Mission Greenway cuts it off.

“We don’t like doing it, because we don’t like waste,” said Elizabeth Creely, a member of Mission Greenway and a former Mission Local contributor. “But we have just as much a right to be there as anyone else.”

Parcel 36 has given rise to a border conflict in the heart of the Mission: The seemingly unowned wedge of land, a forgotten slice of railroad that sits between 22nd and 23rd streets and Treat Avenue and Harrison Street, is claimed by several local groups, none of which have legal ownership.

Since Mission Greenway originally cut the locks on the land in October last year, the group’s relationship with some of its immediate neighbors has been fractious. On the west side of the parcel, the gardeners are now engaged in this lock-cutting battle of wills. On the northeast side, they are in a standoff with local business Monkeybrains over a replacement fence.

The conflict boils down to two apparently irreconcilable visions for the lot. Members of Mission Greenway say that they want to convert it from a private parking lot into public green space. Businesses abutting the land say they are uncomfortable with a group unassociated with the city making decisions about its use, and have safety concerns about opening the lot to people they do not know.

In recent weeks, people from all sides of the debate have said that tensions have reached new heights.

A map of parcel 36 pointing out Monkeybrains' warehouse, the Mission Kids preschool, and Mission Greenway's planters.
Map by Will Jarrett. Basemap from Mapbox.

Monkeybrains’ new fence

In February, local internet service provider Monkeybrains bought and moved into the Heinzer warehouse, which abuts the northeast part of the disputed parcel. The following month, Monkeybrains co-founder Alex Menendez applied for a permit to replace the fence along parcel 36’s northeast boundary.

Replacing an old fence is not typically the kind of building work that would raise eyebrows. But Mission Greenway has lodged an appeal against the construction for two reasons.

First: Monkeybrains does not own the land that the fence is on. Parcel 36 has been used by prior warehouse owners to access its loading dock, and Menendez previously argued that the property has an “easement” on the parcel due to this historic use. Monkeybrains also paid more than $20,000 in back taxes on the parcel in February. However, Monkeybrains is not the owner of the parcel, and has not previously claimed that distinction.

But on the fence’s permit application form, the owner is listed as 17th and Peralta LLC, which is the entity Menendez and his fellow co-founder Rudy Rucker use for real estate dealings.

“They have a right to that warehouse,” said Mission Greenway member Jorge Romero. “But they don’t have a right to the adjacent lot.”

Second: The permit is for an “in-kind” replacement, but the fence is unlikely to be made from the same material, said Romero. The permit says that the work will cost $14,000 and that Gomez Iron Works has been contracted to complete the work.

“That is not a chain-link fence. That is a formidable gate,” said Romero. He added that Mission Greenway is worried that once the new fence is installed, they will no longer be able to access the parcel from the northeast.

Menedez and Rucker declined to comment until after the appeal is heard on April 26. In their written response to the appeal, the pair said that, as owners of the warehouse, they have “prescriptive easements over Parcel 36, based on decades of open and notorious use.” A prescriptive easement is a right to use land that you do not own, based on historic use.

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

Police called to the parcel

On the other side of the lot, tensions have been heating up between Mission Greenway and the Mission Kids preschool. Earlier this month, the preschool called the police regarding Mission Greenway on two occasions.

On April 4, around 12:45 p.m., preschool director Christina Maluenda said that she was attempting to close the gate to the parcel when Scott Feeney, a member of Mission Greenway, blocked the gate with his bike and body. Maluenda said that Feeney “physically confronted” and “intimidated” her by getting uncomfortably close and refusing to move.

Feeney said that he “peacefully” stood in the gate and, when asked to move, “politely declined and explained the need for access to maintain the garden.”

Maluenda then went inside the preschool and put the school into “lockdown,” taking the children inside for the rest of the day. She called both Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office and the police.

According to a blog post written by Feeney, a man he identified as Maluenda’s husband shouted at some members of Mission Greenway before police arrived. The police came and left without making any arrests or charging anyone with a crime.

On April 6, Maluenda called the police again. She said that she saw several members of Mission Greenway, including Feeney, standing next to the preschool fence. Again, the police did not arrest or charge anyone with a crime. Maluenda said that an unknown Mission Greenway member later “came back and stood at the fence line for 10 minutes, peering into the yard.”

“They’re basically coming and just being like, ‘I can stand here. You can’t tell me to leave. I have every right to stand here,’” said Maluenda. She said that she had safety concerns about people she did not know being near the kids in the preschool.

The police department did not respond to requests to see incident reports from these callouts. Menendez and Rucker from Monkeybrains declined to comment, except to say that they had never called the police regarding Mission Greenway.

Other rumbling discontents

On top of these incidents, the preschool and the gardeners have other ongoing disputes.

Members of Mission Greenway have said that they are frustrated by the preschool’s use of parcel 36 for parking. They point to a planning meeting, held before the school was built, in which the preschool directors apparently promised Tree Rubenstein, a longtime community gardener and member of Mission Greenway, that the parcel would not be used for parking.

Maluenda said the preschool’s primary concern was safety, not parking. She added that the school would be happy to give up their parking on the parcel for a city-organized park, affordable housing, or “whatever plans the city adopted,” but she did not want the process to be in the hands of Mission Greenway.

“It’s been incredibly challenging to work with them,” said Maluenda. “They have failed to find common ground with us.”

Maluenda said that the preschool is no stranger to sharing space with other groups. For instance, it operated out of the Saint Mary & Saint Martha Lutheran Church for a decade alongside a homeless shelter before moving to its current location two years ago. But she said that mediation with Mission Greenway has been unsuccessful. When the preschool sent the group a letter detailing their requests, including loading access and parking, it was quickly rejected.

“They have no intention of compromising,” said Mission Greenway’s Creely of the school’s written requests. One of the “red lines” identified by the preschool was that they did not want “Public access without City approval, maintenance and oversight,” which is incompatible with operating a garden, she said.

Right now, the parcel remains accessible to gardeners, but is closed to people without a key. It also hosts public events, including visits from schools and community meetings. Maluenda said that this access constitutes a safety risk. She is looking into erecting a heavy metal security fence along the school’s border with parcel 36, which could cost somewhere in the high five figures.

Another point of contention: Soil in parcel 36 may be contaminated with some level of petroleum, metals, or “volatile organic compounds.” These were found on the site of the preschool, and required mitigation measures during the building process; the school says that contamination makes parcel 36 unsuitable for a greenway without significant cleanup. Multiple members of Mission Greenway said that they were aware of the risk, and had only grown edible plants in raised beds that use soil sourced away from the parcel.

Finally, just to raise temperatures further, members of Mission Greenway said that plants, including tomatoes and strawberries, have been torn out of their beds on several occasions. It is unclear who was responsible.

Position of the Supervisor’s Office

One point of rare agreement between Mission Greenway and the neighborhood businesses can be found in their mutual desire for the city to act as an arbiter.

“On all sides of this argument, we have to find a way to move forward in an organized fashion,” said Romero. “But that can only be accomplished through government and political intervention.”

“We are extremely concerned about the escalation,” said Santiago Lerma, a representative for Hillary Ronen’s office. “But this idea that the board can make a decision on the parcel’s use or ownership is patently false.”

Lerma said that, although the owner of the parcel is unknown, it is not public land, in the sense of being owned by the government. He said that because the land is private, albeit with uncertain ownership, Ronen’s office could not make any determination over its use.

“If these groups would like resources for mediation, we could facilitate that,” Lerma added. He said that options for mediation could include someone from Ronen’s office organizing meetings between the factions or being connected with a pro bono service.

“We support green spaces, but we also support small businesses for low-income people in the Mission,” he said.

There appears to be no obvious end for the conflict in sight. Despite Mission Greenway’s fraught relationship with its immediate neighbors, it has found a chunk of support in the wider community, with a petition in its favor attracting around 1,650 signatures since December. A counter-petition to “remove the planter boxes that have been illegally placed on Parcel 36” was set up in February and has secured 73 signatures so far.

For the time being, it seems locks will continue to be clipped on and cut as per usual on the west gate of parcel 36.

Disclosure: Mission Local and Monkeybrains have a barter arrangement, exchanging advertising for service.

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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. Give the land back to the Native Americans… since no one seems to really have a legit claim. And ultimately land belongs to no one…
    Soraya, are you listening?

  2. I am a parent at the school, nothing like watching mission greenway people getting in screaming matches in front of the 60 children. Or having a women from the group confront us while trying to walk the kids to the park, that “your kids were mean to me”. Mind you these are kids 2-5 years old. We said “these kids were mean to you?” She said well no. I just stood there like, what in the heck is wrong with you? They have no interest in being good neighbors, just a pack of bizarre weirdos who apparently have all the time in the world to make everyone else’s life worse, but not enough time to be there before 1 in the afternoon. As one of over 100 of the parents involved with the school I can say that the greenway group has burned any goodwill anyone had. Lastly the preschool administration locks the gate so people can’t park in there, that’s what she was doing when the sexist dude tried physically dominating her space. Typical for that group.
    I watched a different old women walk in there and pick and take plants, so there is your vandal.

  3. People think this is parking versus gardeners. It’s SAFETY versus gardeners. People should not be able to just come up to the fence and interact with the children attending that school And to hear that these gardeners are intimidating a teacher trying to lock the gate to keep people away from those children is a disgrace. Go away privileged white people with too much time on your hands. Leave this area and let it return to the peaceful place that it has always been.

    1. When Mission Local reported on the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, I asked the moderators: “Please be strict in not allowing racism in the comments section.”

      I condemn racism. I also condemn bigotry, especially when it’s deployed to prop up cynical demagoguery. This is not the path to a more inclusive, just and healthy world.

      1. So no racism in the comments. Got it. Apparently it’s only tolerated on the parcel itself then? Because it takes a precious level of entitlement to break in and occupy private property indefinitely, with no fear of the police. Especially doing it in broad daylight, filming it, and mocking the city by posting it all over social media.

  4. It’s disappointing how many commenters are willing to dismiss a woman’s safety concerns about a man physically intimidating her to get his way. The big issue here is Mission Greenway’s gross tactics, including exploiting the eviction of an artists’ collective to bully a nonprofit preschool serving low income, neighborhood families.

      1. I’m assuming some slick PR consultant somewhere along the way advised Mission Greenway to relentlessly hammer on the word “parking.” After all, that kind of shameless media approach worked miracles for Karl Rove. And Steve Bannon. Like I said earlier, Mission Greenway uses gross tactics. And the neighborhood sees right through it.

  5. I continue to find this saga so fascinating. It’s a sociological experiment on how our species interacts with each other when there is no “law” that establishes “ownership.” This is actually a good argument as to why an arbiter like government is necessary.

    IMO, between the three groups, Mission Greenway has the best idea and practice of how to use this parcel. Gardening and a public green space benefits the entire neighborhood. Private parking does not as it only benefits individual owners and takes up space which could be used for community benefit. The “need for parking for local businesses” is not a strong argument IMO.

    The biggest problem I see though is that when you have people like Scott, Rudy, and Christina interacting with each other, nothing is going to get solved. Because people like Scott come off as a self-righteous hardheaded prick, while Rudy is a horrible asshole for the way he treats and intimidates other people. And the worst of all is Christina and her husband for calling the police and making false accusations like saying this is dangerous for the preschoolers. That’s a waste of time, tax payer money, and puts people in danger. (Truly the police are the best people in this saga for the way that they’ve handled this bullshit.) Nothing is going to get solved with these personalities especially when each thinks they have a right and the other doesn’t.

    The way I see it, it’s Mission Greenway gardening vs local businesses parking. Who should “win” depends on how you feel about colonization, climate change, “private property,” green space, cars etc which makes this battle a portrait for the conflicts happening in San Francisco and the rest of the world.

    Anyway, I think that the city should claim the land, and make it a green public garden/park and be done with it.

    1. Dear anonymous,

      I agree with your first paragraph explaining the role of government. As far as being a “horrible asshole who intimidates people”, I’ll disagree. I am that Rudy and am honestly flummoxed by your statement.

      From day 1, the greenway members were ready to do battle with whoever bought the Heinzer building. I don’t take their attacks personally as I understand their mission and perspective: a playground, public restroom, community room, community gardens, and open ball throwing area and park (all present across the across the street) are terrific for urban areas. Your attack, I do take personally. It is also familiar: the day we got the keys, a group of “Friends” of the greenway blocked the gate with planters, told us businesses no longer had a right to use the lot, and harassed me, my employees, and Mission Kids. If you think I am an asshole and intimidating for standing up for my employees and the wonderful people at Mission Kids, so be it.

      As far as “ownership” goes, there are many adjacent property owners with easements on the land. We are one of those property owners, and I am very appreciative of the entire city for supporting Monkeybrains these past 25 years so that we could move from renting in SF to owning a warehouse. This will provide stability for 60 employees and their dependents. The activists do not have an easement and rejected our plan to help them develop part of the lot as a green space.

      Deep down, I believe the Monkeybrains and The Friends of the Greenway both have good intentions for the residents of SF.

  6. Will,

    Thanks for covering this as I’ve been a fan of Monkey Brains for over 20 years when there were only 3 of them wiring the Gonzalez for Mayor Campign.

    I watched them compete with the Google boys when they personally ran the company and ‘bribed’ Electronic Frontier with a million dollar donation which helped them convince Peskin that Microsoft should do the City wiring.

    They never did.

    Just shut Rudy and Alex out.

    Rudy never complained and just kept on trucking, giving the most bandwidth for the least cash to people like me.

    Tens of thousands of us.

    The Pre-School is also a City Treasure.

    They, like Monkey Brains aid thousands of San Franciscans with their work.

    The Greenway people just want to fight.

    They need it and there are many people like that here.

    If only they targeted their energy in a positive direction or, at least, did not disrupt the Pre-School and Affordable High-Speed Internet businesses which pay taxes on the land and contribute much to the Public Good.

    The Greenway people just want publicity and are selfishly inhibiting legitimate concerns.

    Go Niners !!

    Draft starts today and we don’t pick til #99 on Friday.

    Isn’t that Bosa’s number ?


    1. Awesome history. Revealing text on the “Oligarchs” on the Board and related ethno-oppressors.
      Speaking truth and exposing the light coming through the dark side…

  7. Picking a fight with a preschool – nice move. As if there weren’t already enough reasons for parents choose to raise their kids outside of SF.

  8. “Shared space” in San Francisco means “space for me and not for thee.” A group that thinks that it has the moral high ground establishes squatter’s rights and then denies (or makes unpleasant) the space to everyone else. This has happened with the slow streets, the bike lanes, the parklets, and the homeless encampments.

    I’m familiar with the Greenway Group via social media. They come across as aggressive belligerent, and in “your face.” and pugilistic. Who actually owns the land? Monkeybrains paid the taxes. Would the Greenway be for everyone’s use or exclusively for its club? It sounds like they have commandeered the space for their own.

    There has to be a compromise solution. Is Community Boards still active?

    1. They “commandeered” the space because there were two private businesses claiming the land for themselves and trying to lock others out. It _should_ be public space, not simply the Greenway crew’s, which is why it would be good if the city came forth and actually claimed it rather than let a couple of business try to steal it from the public for parking.

      Monkeybrains/Mission Kids have no natural right to this land, and it’s pretty sleazy of them to pretend otherwise.

  9. The Greenway Group is a bunch of posers. They can’t sniff the toes of Mission Kids regarding community work. Rather than focusing their energy on truly building or collaborating with a community, they want to duke it out with a preschool that continues to touch kids at the beginning stages of development?!

  10. The school and the warehouse are just asking for trouble when they engage in self help. Calling the cops in a local gardener to enforce property rights you don’t have is just over the top. It seems that the school and the warehouse knew the garden was ongoing when they moved to the neighborhood. Groups like Mission Greenway are what make San Francisco special.

  11. On the side in question part of the fence is iron part chain link.

    Additionally, the greenway does not own any buildings or land adjacent and have a garden in a park across the street.

    This is clearly an attempt to make a clubhouse for a few greenway members. Not cool at all.

  12. Putting up an iron fence to keep the guerrilla gardening group out sounds like the least Rudy Rucker-like option available.

    C’mon Monkeybrains. You used to be the most cyberpunk ISP in the city. Don’t go all corporate on us.

    1. Haven’t Punks always battled Hippies? Anyhow, seems to me that entitled, rigid, militant, colonizer Karens and Kyles are way more “the man” than a preschool and a longstanding local business that basically gives Internet away. Time to focus on what is important and not let self appointed community people strangle our city for their self-interests disguised as “a community effort”.

      1. This is some freaky weird take. Giving internet away, you’ve gotta be kidding me. More parking less gardens, that’s your take?

      2. Miguel,

        Only time I ever saw Punks and Hippies go at it was during ‘Slam Dancing’ at the Mubuhaye Gardens or wherever.

        North Beach in early 80’s.

        Saw Keith Richards there one night enjoying the ruckus.

        Kinda a bridge atween the sides I guess.

        Go Warriors !!


    2. Steve, Steve,

      Have you ever seen the work Gomez Iron Works does ?!!?

      It’s sculture, dude.

      And, y’all keep calling Monkey Brains a ‘warehouse’.

      They are, in fact, the most successful provider of low-cost high-speed band width in the City and have been for two decades.

      Hippies can succeed you know altho it is rare to this degree.

      This is not a ‘warehouse’ in the normal sense of the word.

      Every vehicle readied and deployed from Monkey Brains advances the communications capacity for San Franciscans.

      I was shocked to see they’d survived this long, let alone thrived.

      To the Greenway people:

      Rudy and Alex fought Google and survived.

      They’ll survive you.

      Go Warriors !!


    3. Aren’t we all cool when we have nothing to lose? Then you grow up, create a family, buy a house, and suddenly you’ve got people and things to protect. But if you keep acting like an adolescent, they will get hurt and you will lose your stuff.

  13. Man, people will really do anything to keep their free, private, parking lot they don’t own.

    1. It’s been parking… you would know if you lived here. StevieG they have a business to run…. Welcome to reality.

  14. Everything that these entitled urbanists touch turns into the opposite of what they promise. They are so high on their own supply, so sure of themselves, oblivious to the power imbalance that falls in their favor, and of the evilness of anyone who disagrees that poor outcomes are all but guaranteed.

    Odds are that the the bulk of them will be raising children in the suburbs in five years time after they grow out of their urbanist phase.

  15. What a weak statement from Ronen’s office. “We’re extremely concerned, but we’re not going to proactively do anything about it” is basically what that boils down to.
    If they were actually concerned, they would at least help to navigate the core legal question: if the owner of the land can’t be determined and the parcel has been unused for years, who gets to determine its use / can the city buy it?
    If there’s a clear opportunity for public benefit, I really think the city should help to facilitate a reasonable solution.

    1. Ronen’s office did reach out Rec and Park. Taking over land for parks is in Rec and Park’s purview; however, they have a long list of already and the spur does not make the cut.

  16. The neighborhood can’t stand this entitled Greenway group. It’s a small group of punks who pretend to represent the community. Their gardening efforts are trash as well.

    1. Oh yes, parked cars are nicer than raised planter beds. /sarcasm
      I’ll take plants over cars any day. And think that a community garden is best for this parcel, as none of the others own it. Just how to get the city to designate it is the catch. Ronen needs to find a better solution.

      1. You had you chance to negotiate in a civil and reasonable manner and you chose to be complete and utter jerks. Fuera Mission Greenway!

    2. Hi! I’m part of the neighborhood. I live a block away and have done so for 15 years. I am part of the Greenway group. Multiple of our members and supporters live within 1-2 blocks of the parcel.

      My partner witnessed the aftermath of the 2nd police call. The Mission Kids director’s husband wasted the time of six police officers screaming about someone who stood there peacefully. After the cops left, said husband threatened to kill the person in question, called Tree Rubenstein (a local do-gooder for decades) a “trust fund asshole,” and then tipped over a planting bed in the garden, killing all the seedlings inside.

      Mission Kids lied and said they’d all be walking or biking their kids to school. Now they claim they need all this parking. Do any of them even live here? If they needed a private compound to hide their kids away in, why did they build their space in a busy urban area with a vacant lot next door?

      1. Oh Tree Rubenstein eh? Didn’t he already make a land grab for a railroad spur on 23rd. One that is fenced and locked and open for only 3 hours a day or whenever the hell he feels like it? What if I behaved like Mission Greenway and ripped the boards off that fence because the limited hours don’t suit me? What if I broke the lock over and over again and demanded 24/7 access the way you do? Where’s my key Tree? Community garden my arse. Y’all tend to that before you start beef with MB and MK. Hypocrites the lot of you.

        1. Are you talking about the community garden at Parque de Los Niños? That wasn’t a “land grab,” that’s a city park. Like all the other city-owned “community gardens,” this is run by a waitlist system where individuals receive plots when their names come up. The waitlists are usually years long. If you want a key, maybe get in line?

          If you’re talking about the garden at 23rd & Shotwell, that’s privately owned but sometimes open to the public. Parcel 36 is not privately owned. No one owns it.

          As far as I know, no one at the Greenway wants 24/7 access. We want the right of way open during reasonable daylight hours. And we don’t want unowned land to be claimed by a tiny group of for-profit businesses as a parking lot.

          1. Wow the history of that “private” community garden at 3141-3145 23rd Street is fascinating, no wonder you’re downplaying it.

            That parcel 3641/061 is owned by a bogus non-profit Rebirth and Development Inc whose president was Tree Rubenstein, according to their articles of incorporation.

            Like the current vacant lot under dispute, the prior ownership of the parcel is murky and has no paper trail before 2000. I’m sensing a theme here of the hippie land grab. I’m all for green space, but the neighborhood does not need another closed-to-the-public “community garden” gatekeeped by angry hippies scamming the tax code.

            It seems odd that the articles of incorporation state the goals of this non-501(c)3 Non-profit as distributing food, goods and services to “underprivileged persons” . Maybe Tree should update that to reflect his current concentration of serving “privileged persons”.

            What’s particularly shocking to me is inviting local children to visit and play in a vacant lot full of the uncovered dirt of a toxic railroad spur under the guise of “serving the community”. That is some settler colonialism bullsh_t. Where is the remediation plan, besides “raised beds”? Or will you just come out and say it: that you’re using the health of our children as human shields for your hippie land grab?

          2. If you’re uncomfortable with a “hippie land grab,” what do you propose be done with this land? I see a lot of complaining from you without any proposed solutions!

        2. @ToxicTrees, I didnt “downplay,” I’m just a neighborhood member who isn’t familiar with the history of every single parcel in the neighborhood. I’m not involved with the nonprofit that runs the All In Common garden. I’ve been in there a few times, that’s it. That said, that nonprofit DOES distribute food, as they run the Free Farm Stand every Sunday at Parque de Los Niños, which has existed for something like 15 years and distributes food grown all over SF. It seems like you have some personal beef with Tree, who i don’t personally know. He isn’t currently very involved in Mission Greenway, afaik, which is one reason I think it’s weird that the vandal married to one of the Greenway directors would be shouting insults about him when his false complaints to the cops fell on deaf ears.