Three men, allegedly dispatched by Mission real estate agent Louis Cornejo, were tasked Wednesday night with moving seven huge plantations away from the west gate of the disputed Lot 36.
This is not an easy task. Each planter installed on site by the green space advocacy group Mission Greenway weighs hundreds of pounds. A local resident saw the trio use a pickup truck and wooden ramps to haul the pots about 100 feet northeast of the gate. Several pots appeared to have been broken in transit and the bottom of one appeared to be partially collapsed.
The next morning, drag marks in the mud showed where the pots had been pulled. Mission Greenway member Lara Hanna, who helped set up the garden, isn’t impressed.
“This guy thinks he’s above the law,” Hannah said. “That’s what’s disgusting.” Hannah called the incident “illegal moving and vandalism”.
Cornejo’s nightly plantation escapades are the latest escalation in tensions between Mission Greenway and a group of aggrieved neighbors adjoining the disputed parcel. The 23,522-square-foot lot, which cuts a diagonal line on a block at 22nd and Harrison Streets, has unknown ownership but has been fenced off for decades and reserved for nearby businesses. In October, Mission Greenway cut the chains on the fence, created a daisy-chain lock to access the site itself, and created a garden inside. A number of neighboring businesses have since hired a lawyer to file claims on the site, and the relationship between the two groups has been rocky.
Cornejo is the realtor for the Heinzer warehouse, which adjoins Parcel 36 and uses the land for access to the loading dock. The warehouse has been up for sale since its artist tenant was evicted last fall. Cornejo declined to comment directly on the incident, but referred to a statement from attorney Stephen Preonas, who was employed by warehouses and other businesses around the property.
“We found no damage,” Preonas said in an email. “The owner may have moved the plantation which interfered with commercial operations.”
In a video Hannah filmed the day after the plantation was moved, Cornejo said the land was “private property” and that trucks needed gates to get in and out. Where the pots were planted, one of the large double doors on the west side can still be opened, but the second is blocked. “What you did was malicious,” Conejo said.
“I wasn’t involved, I don’t know anything about it,” said James Heinzer, the owner of the warehouse.
The ownership of Parcel 36 is unclear, although Preonas and Cornejo mention owners and private land. A representative from the Assessor-Recorder’s office told Mission Local that Southern Pacific was not recorded as the owner of the land until as recently as 2017, but the company hasn’t existed since 1996. Treasurer and tax officer records appear to show that no tax was paid for the land between 2008 and 2018, which would normally trigger the city to auction off the land — it’s unclear why that didn’t happen.
According to the Office of the Assessment Recorder, the lot was divided into three sub-lots in 2019. One of the sub-lots was allocated to the John Center Co., a long-defunct company founded by the 19th-century land baron of the same name. The other was assigned to a long-deceased Wehr family member, said former Mission Local contributor and Mission Greenway member Elizabeth Creely, who surveyed the site extensively. Neither subpackage has paid any taxes since its creation. The third subplot is largely allocated to members of the Crimm-Ready family, who have paid taxes on the land. The Office of the Assessment Recorder said the family’s claim dates back to 1910.
Despite these complications, Santiago Lerma, an aide to Superintendent Hilary Ronen, said the land was not up for grabs because the city had allocated taxpayers to the site.
“The group continues to insist that no one owns the land,” Lerma said. “But the council has found people who need an assessment to pay taxes. The tax on one of the parcels is up to date.”
In no event was the business adjoining the land claiming title. In late November, Preonas wrote to Tree Rubenstein, a green space activist for half a century and de facto leader of the Mission Greenway group, claiming that the business’s historic use of the land meant they had a “prescribed easement” on the land. right”.
A prescriptive easement is a legal right to use someone else’s property for a specific purpose for more than five years without express permission. In this case, businesses say they have a legal right to continue using the land because they have already used it for parking and as a “right of way”. The letter does not claim any contractual easements in the business deed.
“They claimed easements,” Creeley said. “But no right can be said to have been established unless it passes judicial review.”
Preonas’ November letter also expressed a desire to “open a dialogue with Mission Greenway” to discuss land use “consistent with property owners’ rights of way and community health and safety.” This eventually led to a meeting on January 1st. 6 Representatives from the Heinzer Warehouse on one hand, the adjoining Mission Kids Co-op on the other, and local resident Jorge Romero, a member of the Mission Greenway, on the other.
Romero is a civil engineer with extensive experience in greenfield projects in his hometown of Bernal Heights. He described the meeting as “relatively professional and polite,” but said Mission Greenway was unable to accommodate multiple requests. One of the requirements, he said, was that members of his group stop accessing the site until the time of access was agreed upon. The other is that the group moved the plantation to the nearest road in Westgate, where a public event is planned for January 1. 14 cancel. (But in fact, it’s not.)
Romero told Mission Local that restricting access to the site indefinitely would make maintenance of the garden impossible. What’s more, the ultimate goal of Mission Greenway is to make areas public, not shared between groups. At the meeting, Romero said, he promised to discuss the requests with other members of Mission Greenway. Since then, the two sides have not met formally, nor have they reached any agreement.
“For me, I’m done. I don’t want to go to another meeting,” Romero said. “Unless there are signs that we can actually work together, I don’t think it makes sense for us to meet.”
Heather Lubeck, director of the Mission Kids Co-op, declined to comment for this article, but emailed a statement explaining the co-op’s position.
“Lot 36 is in close proximity to a children’s play area, so safety is paramount,” the statement read. It goes on to say that “Mission Kids supports the creation of public green spaces maintained by nonprofit organizations such as SF Rec and Park or the SF Parks Alliance” and welcomes “broad community input on the future use of Parcel 36.”
In addition to these safety concerns, Parcel 36 parking is commonly used by preschool parents when picking up and dropping off their children and when volunteering at the co-op. Rubinstein said the flower beds installed closest to the West Gate — those that were later towed — were specifically designed to prevent parking. On Thursday afternoon, the spaces were filled again with cars.
Despite these points of contention with the kindergarten and the Heinzer warehouse, Rubenstein said opposition to the greenway came from a minority.
“I don’t think all the tensions between neighbors are rising,” Rubinstein said. “Of course I know realtors are the most unhappy people.”
The organization does have many supporters. One preschool parent said she “loved the plants” on Thursday afternoon when she borrowed a chair from the garden to shoe her child. An online petition in support of the greenway has attracted more than 900 signatures in the past few weeks.
Still, their detractors aren’t limited to neighboring business owners. Artist Adam Feibelman, who owns a studio in the Heinzer warehouse until all tenants are evicted in the fall of 2022, said the Greenway Group was not thinking enough about the needs of its neighbors. He said he and his artist colleagues had sought reassurance about the possibility of a break-in if the fence was open, but did not believe Mission Greenway would take adequate precautions. He added that the current use of the site by kindergartens and warehouses should be respected.
“That’s not how you win political arguments,” Faberman said. Artists voted overwhelmingly against supporting Mission Greenway last summer. A lot of artists in the warehouse used to use this parcel for parking as well.
Faberman said that while he was against the group, he was against the towing and damage to the plantation. “I don’t like when their stuff breaks,” he said. “I think the plants are beautiful and well maintained.”
Rubenstein said that while “the temperature might be a little hot” right now, he’s optimistic that previous users of the Mission Greenway and packages should be able to move forward with more conversations. However, the seasoned green space advocate emphasized that he would prefer to speak directly to neighbors rather than through a lawyer.
“We considered lawyers on our own team,” Rubenstein said. “But we’re not sure that lawyers can really help with that.”
Mission Greenway is holding a public event at the property today from 1pm to 4pm, featuring live music and food. For more information on the event, visit the organization’s website.