Founders Aboud Jardaneh and Thomas Cottin. Sweetch and other apps, the city's attorney's office contends, is not so sweet.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued an immediate cease-and-desist order Monday to parking apps such as Monkey Parking, a mobile peer-to-peer bidding app that allows drivers to auction off public parking spaces. 

Today’s decision also impacts other parking apps—including Sweetch, which allows drivers to earn money by selling their spots to nearby drivers for a fee of $5. Monkey Parking uses a bidding system that allows drivers to take the highest bid for their parking space. CARMAnation, another app, charges up to a $2 fee for renting out a private parking spot and will not be affected by the ban. Drivers using its app can also hand over their spot for free or donate the $2 to charity.

Herrera made it clear that any app charging for public parking, however, violates a “key provision” of the city’s police code that prohibits “companies from buying, selling or leasing public on-street parking.”

Those who violate the provision face “administrative penalties of up to $300 for each violation.”

“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.”

It is unclear if the developers working on parking apps will take the decision to court.

CARMAtion was the only app pleased by the decision. “Companies should look to help solve urban living issues through technology, instead of taking advantage of public property or city residents,” the company said in a statement it released today. “Parking is one of the biggest problems in cities like San Francisco, due to the lack of and high cost associated with it.


City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Parking Apps

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born...

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  1. Good work. Perhaps the people at Sweetch can go back to the drawing board and come up with a decent idea that actually helps people. We will be waiting.

  2. Since the onset of Monkey Parking which is ape asinine, I’ve voiced concern and asked – “How could this even have occurred?” And now I read this in Robert Montegro’s column —

    Monkey Parking CEO and co-founder Paolo Dobrowolny offered Wired this counter-argument to Herrera’s demands:

    “As a general principle we believe that a new company providing value to people should be regulated and not banned.”

    According to Paolo’s LinkedIn page, he’s just clueless — delusional — in that in his mind he thinks he’s helping people trade parking spots. Newsflash Paolo – holding a free parking place hostage for money equals extortion — and we kind of like to think that mobster mentality disappeared with Al Capone.

  3. Who wrote this fucking article. Parking got more expensive in the City because people started illegally charging for it, not because the City Attorney is moving to prevent it.

  4. The city attorney doesn’t make laws. He merely interprets and advises on laws. Therefore the fact that Herrera makes a claim like this doesn’t mean that utterance has any force. A court would decide, just as with the claim that Airbnb is “illegal”

    I think Herrera has this wrong. He is correct that private individuals cannot sell public parking spaces, whether metered or not. But the counter argument here is that it is not the parking space that is being sold but rather the information that it is about to be vacated.

    And it is perfectly legal to sell information about public assets. Just as it is perfectly legal to offer someone money to get their place in a line, or to make things more convenient for oneself.

    People are perfectly capable of working out private arrangements. I fail to see why the city is trying to meddle here. But in any event, enforcing their position will be impossible, just as it has proven to be with Airbnb, and at least in that case there is documentation.

    Am I selling my parking space or just sitting in my car? Who can say?

      1. All that means is that a city official could write out a citation, assuming that they ever caught someone doing this, which itself is highly unlikely.

        Then, when the person refuses to pay the ticket, the matter would be resolved. The city attorney has regularly lost at court. Indeed, he has advised the city to pass entire laws that the courts have bounced.

        I don’t blame Herrera for trying to steal some limelight here. He is an ambitious politician, after all. But I doubt that anyone who is already using this app is going to be intimidated by his vacuous rhetoric.

        In much the same way as thousands of city residents are using Airbnb despite the city’s self-serving claims that it is both illegal and taxable (itself a bizarre paradox).

        1. The City Attorney can issue an opinion, send a demand letter to the parties for compliance and if they ignore that, take them to court and probably win.

    1. It ain’t the gov’t. that’s meddling, “Sam”, it’s Sweetch and the other companies that are. And if the end result of the information being purchased means that a public space- like a parking spot- goes to the fastest or highest bidder- the parking spot is being traded. You can’t detach the one from the other. The point is to purchase- and thus privatize- public resources which is illegal. Herrera is getting a thank you email from me.

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