City Attorney throws a monkey wrench into parking-space auction app

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No, this photo isn't actually part of the story. But c'mon, isn't it cute?
FLICKR PHOTO BY DAVID BREWSTER

An iPhone app that lets users auction off their parking spots might sound like a novel idea, especially in a parking-deprived city like San Francisco. Unfortunately for Paolo Dobrowolny, co-founder and CEO of the MonkeyParking app that does exactly that, the practice is also illegal.

The app violates a key provision of San Francisco's Police Code, which states that drivers who “enter into a lease, rental agreements or contract of any kind” for public parking spots can face penalties of up to $300, according to City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has issued a cease-and-desist demand against MonkeyParking.

"Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work – and Monkey Parking is not one of them," Herrera said in a statement. "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.”

That’s not how Dobrowolny sees it. Though he's still working with his legal team to address Herrera’s concerns, the MonkeyParking CEO said he fundamentally disagrees with Herrera’s stance.

“As a general principle we believe that a new company providing value to people should be regulated and not banned,” Dobrowolny wrote in an email. “Regulation is fundamental in driving innovation, while banning is just stopping it.”

Herrera imposed a July 11 deadline to cease operations in his letter to MonkeyParking, but the app may not even last that long. By violating San Francisco’s Police Code, it’s already landed in hot water when it comes to Apple’s guidelines for app developers, which state: “Apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users.” Herrera copied Apple’s legal department onto the letter, so there's a possibility MonkeyParking could be removed as a result.

The use of parking apps like MonkeyParking also brings up the potentially dangerous matter of cell phone use within a moving vehicle, an issue that wasn’t lost on Herrera. In his letter to Dobrowolny, Herrera wrote that MonkeyParking is “facilitating and encouraging drivers to use cellphones and other wireless communication devices in a manner that distracts them, posing a safety hazard to the public and violating state laws that prohibit using cellphones and such other devices while driving.”

But since the app already appears to be in violation of the local police code and the App Store guidelines, this is simply icing on the cake.

“Worst of all, [MonkeyParking] encourages drivers to use their mobile devices unsafely – to engage in online bidding wars while driving,” Herrera said. “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."

MonkeyParking isn’t alone in its apparent violation of city rules. Sweetch and ParkModo are two other iPhone apps that provide allegedly illegal monetization of parking spots in the city, and Herrera’s office is cracking down on them as well.

Sweetch is similar to MonkeyParking, though it charges a flat fee of $5 per parking spot instead of the bidding system. ParkModo, which has yet to officially launch, will reportedly employ drivers for $13 an hour to occupy public parking spots in the Mission, according to Herrera’s statement.

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