Motorists face $300 fines for each violation under existing law, City Attorney says — and three startups could be liable for penalties of up to $2,500 for each transaction
SAN FRANCISCO (June 23, 2014) — San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today issued an immediate cease-and-desist demand to Monkey Parking, a mobile peer-to-peer bidding app that enables motorists to auction off the public parking spaces their vehicles occupy to nearby drivers. The app, currently available for iOS devices, describes itself on the Apple iTunes App Store as the “the first app which lets you make money every time that you are about to leave your on-street parking spot.”
The letter Herrera’s office issued this morning to Paolo Dobrowolny, CEO of the Rome, Italy-based tech startup, cites a key provision of San Francisco’s Police Code that specifically prohibits individuals and companies from buying, selling or leasing public on-street parking. Police Code section 63(c) further provides that scofflaws — including drivers who “enter into a lease, rental agreement or contract of any kind” for public parking spots — face administrative penalties of up to $300 for each violation. Because Monkey Parking’s business model is wholly premised on illegal transactions, the letter contends that the company would be subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation under California’s tough Unfair Competition Law were the city to sue. Such a lawsuit would be imminent, Herrera’s office vowed, should the startup continue to operate in San Francisco past July 11, 2014.
“Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work — and Monkey Parking is not one of them,” Herrera said. “It’s illegal, it puts drivers on the hook for $300 fines, and it creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate. Worst of all, it encourages drivers to use their mobile devices unsafely — to engage in online bidding wars while driving. People are free to rent out their own private driveways and garage spaces should they choose to do so. But we will not abide businesses that hold hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit.”
Herrera’s cease-and-desist demand to Monkey Parking includes a request to the legal department of Apple Inc., which is copied on the letter, asking that the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant immediately remove the mobile application from its App Store for violating several of the company’s own guidelines. Apple App Store Review Guidelines provide that “Apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users” and that “Apps whose use may result in physical harm may be rejected.”
Two other startups that similarly violate local and state law with mobile app-enabled schemes intended to illegally monetize public parking spaces in San Francisco will also face legal action in the form of cease-and-desist demands this week, according to the City Attorney’s Office. Sweetch charges a $5 flat fee when its users obtain a parking spot from another Sweetch motorist. Sweetch drivers who pass their spots off to other Sweetch members are refunded $4 of that fee. ParkModo, which appears poised to launch later this week, according to recent employment postings on Craigslist, will employ drivers at a rate of $13.00 per hour to occupy public parking spaces in the Mission District. As with Monkey Parking and Sweetch, ParkModo then plans to sell the on-street parking spots to its paying members through its iPhone app. Sweetch and ParkModo members who make use of the apps to park in San Francisco are also subject to civil penalties of $300 per violation, and both companies are potentially liable for civil penalties of $2,500 per transaction for illegal business practices under the California Unfair Competition Law.
A copy of Herrera’s demand letter to Monkey Parking and additional information about the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is available at: https://www.sfcityattorney.org/.
PDF of the Monkey Parking Cease-and-Desist Demand Presskit (June 23, 2014)