After an hours-long argument between a group of guerilla gardeners and the owners of a nearby warehouse, who have competing visions for the hotly contested former rail spur, Creely took out her phone to record Rucker. At around 8:29 p.m., Rucker knocked the phone from her hand. Creely responded by punching him in the face.
In a video of the incident, Creely’s husband, Jay Martin, can be heard repeatedly shouting, “Nobody touches anybody!” immediately after the punch. Creely can be heard saying, “I will fuck you up.”
“I hit him in the face, and that was absolutely my right to do,” said Creely. “Knocking my cell phone out of my hand is physical assault. This is not the moment when physically aggressive actions by men toward women will be tolerated.” She emphasized that Rucker is a larger man, and said she felt threatened.
Rucker said that a minute before he knocked the phone out of Creely’s hands, Creely had knocked a packet of Cheetos out of his hands. Rucker said that he felt “concerned for [his] safety” because he was outnumbered by four Mission Greenway members.
Alex Menendez, Monkeybrains’ other co-founder, said in a statement that they are “working with SFPD on the matter,” but did not confirm if they wanted charges to be filed.
Latest in long line of disputes
This incident was the most recent in a series of disputes between the guerilla gardening group Mission Greenway and businesses that abut the much-contested Parcel 36. The parcel is a diagonal strip of land between 22nd and 23rd streets, and Treat Avenue and Harrison Street. It is claimed by several local groups, none of which have legal ownership.
Mission Greenway cut the locks on the fenced-off parcel back in October, 2022, saying that the land should be a public green space rather than private parking. They have since added multiple planters filled with vegetables and flowers to the southwest corner of the lot.
The Mission Kids preschool and Monkeybrains, a local internet service provider that purchased an adjoined warehouse in February, have had a fractious relationship with Mission Greenway since their arrival. The businesses have said that they do not want a group unaffiliated with the city making decisions about the parcel’s use, and have safety concerns about the lot being open to people they do not know.
The argument that led to the altercation last night began hours earlier. Individuals from Monkeybrains had, that day, constructed a long, thin box using steel and wood on the contested land to one side of their warehouse.
Martin called the construction a “provocation.” He confronted Menendez, and said there should be “no more concrete” poured on the parcel.
In a text message, Menendez identified yesterday’s new construction as a 10-inch planter box.
“We are starting our landscaping as we await our permit for interior work that is taking longer than it should, partially due to Elizabeth Creely going to [the Department of Building Inspection] and trying to block us,” wrote Rucker over text. “The current landscaping project on our easement does not require a permit.”
Over the past few months, members of Mission Greenway have appealed several instances of Monkeybrains’ construction efforts. Most appeals have been denied by the Department of Building Inspection, although one — for a new fence on the parcel’s northeast corner — was upheld last month, on the grounds that Monkeybrains does not own the land. In other instances, Monkeybrains was required to secure additional permits.
Martin said that after a tense back-and-forth with Menendez, he and fellow Mission Greenway member Lara Hanna began using electric screwdrivers to dismantle Monkeybrains’ box. Rucker confronted the pair over destroying their newly built box shortly before 8:30 p.m. Creely said that Rucker intended to “physically intimidate” Martin.
She then started filming Rucker, Rucker swatted her phone away, and she punched him in the eye.
After the punch, Martin went back to deconstructing the box. At the same time, Rucker began screwing the box back together. Angry words flew in all directions.
Around 9 p.m., Creely called the police.
“I called them because I thought, ‘This isn’t ending,’” she said.
Witnesses said that the police were “very interested in getting everyone to go home and be calm.” The officers gave everyone still on the parcel details for Community Boards, a conflict-resolution nonprofit. Martin said that he has requested mediation from the group.
Third police incident, first punch
This was not the first time police have been called to the parcel. In April, the Mission Kids preschool called officers after a confrontation with another member of Mission Greenway. They called officers a second time two days later, when Greenway members were standing near the preschool fence. There were no on-record allegations of physical violence in either instance, and no arrests were made.
Santiago Lerma, a legislative aide for Supervisor Hilary Ronen, said that both the gardeners and Monkeybrains contacted him after Wednesday’s incident. As the police were already involved by that point, Lerma said, their office did not need to immediately intervene.
People on all sides of this dispute have been requesting some kind of formal involvement from the city for months. According to Lerma, it is possible that a long-term resolution may be inching closer.
Following a plea from the Board of Appeals last month, Ronen’s office reached out to the City Attorney to establish concrete answers concerning use of the land. Lerma said that six attorneys spanning multiple departments — including the Real Estate Division, the Department of Building Inspection, and the Board of Supervisors — had been looped in.
“We are very concerned about further escalation,” said Lerma. “We hoped that both parties could come together to find agreement over shared use of the land.”
“Once we have the report from the City Attorney, we hope that folks will accept the findings and move on in a peaceful way.”
It is unclear when the report will be released. And Lerma added that questions could remain, even after legal facts are established: “The definitive answer may be that there is no definitive answer.”
Disclosure: Mission Local and Monkeybrains have a barter arrangement exchanging advertising for service. Elizabeth Creely is a former contributor to Mission Local.