The dispute between guerilla greenspace group Mission Greenway and local internet service provider Monkeybrains over the hotly contested Parcel 36 — a narrow slice of land in the heart of the Mission that, as far as anyone knows, has no owner — has advanced from the garden to the courtroom.
On Wednesday, Monkeybrains made its second appearance before the Board of Appeals after a permit was challenged by the gardeners. In the hearing, Monkeybrains co-owner Rudy Rucker accused Mission Greenway of “weaponizing” the complaints system. Commissioners unanimously decided to reject the appeal, allowing the company to continue with interior renovations.
The next day, Rucker and the gardeners faced off again, in San Francisco Superior Court, over a pair of competing restraining orders.
The groups have been in and out of hearings for the past few months, and a final verdict on permanent restraining orders against either party has yet to be reached. But yesterday, Rucker had a temporary restraining order against him upheld until August 24, when the next hearing is scheduled. Under the terms of that order, Rucker can enter his warehouse, but is not allowed within three yards of Parcel 36.
The gardeners have no such restrictions, after their own temporary restraining order was lifted earlier in July.
“Today’s temporary ruling is shocking and disappointing,” Rucker wrote over email. “I am the victim of physical violence on Parcel 36, and yet I’m prevented from being near parts of my own business as our renovation moves forward.”
The police, city officials, and now a Superior Court judge have all implored the groups to try to reach a peaceful agreement via mediation. But mutual distrust has only intensified over the past few months.
Background of the parcel
Parcel 36 is a historic rail spur with unclear ownership. Since the 1980s, the land has been fenced off by abutting businesses and used for parking. In October 2022, Mission Greenway cut the locks on the fence and installed planters in the lot’s south-west corner.
Mission Greenway, which was a community group for several years and recently became a nonprofit, ultimately wants to remove the fences and transform the space into a public greenway. The neighboring businesses — including Monkeybrains, in its recently acquired warehouse, and the Mission Kids Preschool — say that they have safety concerns with opening up the space, and assert that they have a right to use the lot, based on historic use.
On May 24, the dispute turned violent. An argument began when Monkeybrains workers installed a long box on the parcel near their warehouse. Greenway members began to dismantle it, arguing that they could not build on land they do not own. Monkeybrains co-owner Rucker confronted them. After Rucker hit Greenway member Elizabeth Creely’s hand and knocked her phone away, Creely punched him in the face.
Creely said that she has stepped back from the gardening group since the incident.
Property damage and restraining orders
The following day, Jay Martin, one of four Mission Greenway members present during the altercation (and Creely’s husband), reached out to Rucker via conflict resolution nonprofit Community Boards to arrange mediation, on advice from police. But hope for a truce would be short-lived.
The same day, according to Rucker, two people associated with Mission Greenway — Lara Hanna and Chiara Powers — allegedly used sledgehammers to damage Monkeybrains’ newly installed box, which had been filled with concrete earlier that day. The construct is essentially a low concrete wall; Rucker said Monkeybrains intends to install planters on top.
Rucker called the police and the pair were written up, he said. Rucker has since filed for some $1,515 in damages in small claims court from Mission Greenway; the case is set to be heard on Aug. 28.
The next day, May 26, Rucker requested restraining orders against all four people who were on the parcel during the May 24 altercation: Creely, Martin, Hanna, and Mauricio Zambrano. Powers would later be added as a fifth respondent. A temporary restraining order was granted.
Rucker did not respond to Martin’s letter seeking mediation. His attorney, Lisa Pinelli, would later say that the damage to the newly built concrete construct meant he “did not believe that this offer was reasonable or in good faith.”
Since the temporary restraining order was issued, a hearing for a permanent resolution has been repeatedly delayed. And, on July 3, Creely issued a counter restraining order against Rucker, keeping him at a distance of 50 yards from Parcel 36 and the aforementioned Mission Greenway members.
“We filed a countersuit, so that all the facts could be heard in court,” said Martin.
After another appearance in court on July 5, the temporary restraining order against the Greenway members was lifted on the grounds that “the facts alleged do not support the orders requested.” The temporary restraining order against Rucker remained in place.
Two court dates later, this Thursday, a final verdict on the restraining order was delayed once again, on the grounds that video evidence submitted by Monkeybrains did not cover the whole of the May 24 altercation. In the meantime, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal upheld the decision to restrain Rucker and not the Mission Greenway members, although the distance of the temporary order was reduced so that Rucker could unambiguously access his warehouse without violating its terms.
As court appearances have piled up, drama on Parcel 36 has not abated. On July 17, a car rammed the Treat Avenue gate, smashing it out of shape. Rucker and his fellow co-owner, Alex Menendez, blame the Greenway, but members have denied knowledge of involvement.
The San Francisco Police Department did not respond to a request to see the police report.
Another Board of Appeals appearance
Complaints about Monkeybrains’ construction work have also continued to accumulate. One objection to a permit related to interior renovation work, raised by Hanna, resulted in Monkeybrains’ second appearance before the Board of Appeals this Wednesday.
Commissioners did not seem happy to see Mission Greenway and Monkeybrains in front of them again — nor did they seem surprised.
“This board recognizes that this address, and the activities surrounding everything, have created a lot of emotion in the community,” said President Rick Swig. He added that finding a resolution to the situation at Parcel 36 was “outside of our jurisdiction,” and encouraged everyone to focus narrowly on the permit at hand.
The permit involved renovations inside Monkeybrains’ warehouse. Specifically, it allowed Monkeybrains to install new restrooms, renovate existing restrooms, take down some interior walls, renovate a kitchenette, and create an “interior entry hall.”
Hanna argued that the permit was not valid, because the use of the term “loading area” on the plans, referring to the area where the warehouse meets Parcel 36, incorrectly implied a use of the land that was not legally supported.
“Parcel 36 is labeled as their ‘loading area,’” said Hanna at the hearing. “Permit holders expect to be able to turn a property, which they hold no legal rights over, into their loading and parking area, without any legislative procedure whatsoever.”
Commissioners unanimously denied the appeal on the grounds that the label is not relevant to the work included in the permit. Representatives from the Department of Building Inspection and the Planning Department concurred.
Despite Swig’s appeal to focus solely on the permit, barbs were exchanged during the hearing. Rucker accused Mission Greenway of “abusing the levers of government” to cost his business money through gratuitous complaints. The company has yet to fully move into its warehouse, acquired in February, partly due to delays from permit appeals.
Rucker also leveled a laundry list of alleged penal code violations against members of the gardening group. Commissioner Alex Lemberg retorted that making such accusations without a legal foundation was “appalling.”
“I handle defamation cases, and that’s a case I would take,” Lemberg said.
Back in April, following a successful permit appeal against Monkeybrains over a replacement fence, Lemberg penned a letter to various city officials, asking for help resolving the dispute on Parcel 36. Rucker said during Wednesday’s hearing that the letter had since been used as “propaganda” against his business.
Proceedings wrapped up with entreaties from commissioners for the two groups to come together to find a peaceful resolution, and a weary acknowledgement that they would likely see them again.
Future of the parcel
Yesterday, in their latest restraining order court appearance, Judge Villarreal ordered that the members of Mission Greenway and Rucker attempt to organize mediation through Community Boards once again.
“We hope that mediation is successful,” said Santiago Lerma, legislative aide to Supervisor Hilary Ronen and future supervisorial hopeful. “I know they have tried in the past and it has not been successful, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try again.”
Although there have been multiple appeals for officials to intervene in the dispute, it appears unlikely that the city will make decisions directly concerning the parcel. Jen Kwart, spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, responded to questions over email: “We appreciate that the dispute over Parcel 36 is challenging and complex. However, this is a dispute over private property, which the City does not own. The courts are usually the appropriate entity to resolve private property ownership disputes like this.”
Although the land is private, its owner is unclear. When the Assessor-Recorder attempted to find assessees for the lot in 2017, it listed a long-defunct company and several long-deceased individuals. This leaves the parcel’s ownership in legal limbo.
Menendez and Rucker have long asserted that, while they do not own the land, they have an easement on the property — essentially, a right to use of land you do not own, thanks to historic use. They said that they are working to get this alleged right legally recognized. On the flip side, Mission Greenway points out that the space was a public right-of-way before it was fenced off by neighboring businesses.
Menendez said that he is interested in eventually sharing the land with community groups, and had met with the San Francisco Parks Alliance to discuss possibilities.
“I can see a balance where we have community involvement and business involvement,” said Menendez. “Is it going to be with [Mission Greenway]? I doubt it.”
In the meantime, the two factions continue to reluctantly share the space, and gardeners still regularly squeeze through the fence to tend to their plants. Mission Greenway continues to hold events on the parcel; one is scheduled for this Saturday.
“It is challenging to just walk into the garden now,” said Jorge Romero, a civil engineer and member of Mission Greenway. “I am impressed that they are still diligent about looking after it.”
Disclosure: Mission Local and Monkeybrains have a barter arrangement, exchanging advertising for service. Elizabeth Creely is a former contributor to Mission Local.