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

No, this photo isn't actually part of the story. But c'mon, isn't it cute?

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.


The city keeps trying to micro-manage the sharing economy but keeps failing dismally. Unless the people support the city (and polls indicate by 70-30, they do not) then this petty attempt at micro-management will fail.

The mistake the city is making here is claiming that i am selling their property. i am not. What i am selling is the convenience of replacing my occupation of that property.

That's a subtle difference but an important one. I will continue to use this application, and will no more worry about it than I worry about Airbnb'ing my homes.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

i doubt you know what you're talking about.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 1:48 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2014 @ 6:11 am

It is selling information about parking spaces

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

then they could kill off most of the demand for these apps pretty effectively just by making that information freely available.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 3:54 pm

still occupying that space, and so the sensors would reveal nothing

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

Crack down on the grifting economy.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 3:58 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

still occupying that space, and so the sensors would reveal nothin

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Posted by zincirli vinç on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 11:33 pm

ason Grant Garza here .. WOW the city attorney in all his GLORY ... is issuing this cease and desist ... WHY NOT Airbnd ( you know the illegal rentals) that HAVE being going on for YEARS? Is it ONLY some LAWS that get ENFORCED? Or maybe even Medical LAW ... go to youtube and type in Jason Garza to see over 400 videos in regard to DENIED Medical Care, NO LAW ENFORCEMENT and NO HUMANITY. From youtube about section:

"Watch OVER a year of VIDEOS regarding denied MEDICAL CARE ... Having fallen through "Alice's looking glass" (Lewis Carroll) into a WORLD which is opposite of what it should be and my attempts at MEDICAL CARE, Medical Law Enforcement, Legal Right Protection, ADA and Disability Rights, Human Rights, Civil Rights and Constitutional Rights. See the RESULTS of going to the PROFESSIONALS. LAW ENFORCEMENT, Agencies in charge of ENFORCEMENT ... ALL which provide NO ACCOUNTING, NO FOLLOWUP, NO CORRECTION and NO HOPE. "In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act" G. Orwell

How can this happen ... think BOY SCOUTS, ALTAR BOYS, WEAPONS of MASS DESTRUCTION, etc when the "FIX" is in and ALL complicit players engage. Check out or (Signed Confession - Case C02-3485PJH Paperwork)"

SO KEEP DRINKING the KOOL-AID if you believe that this is in your BEST interests .. what is it TIME for the City Attorney to run for something else? Again ... why NO cease and desist against AirBnd? Learn the GAMES.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 3:43 am

It's worth noting that the city attorney isn't the one who gets to declare something illegal. That's the court's job. The city attorney can file a lawsuit, but it's the court who decides.

(Which does not stop Dennis Herrera from vigorously seeking the spotlight while the case is happening)

Posted by SFRealist on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 6:27 am

so this statement is a bluff, kinda like the tax collector claiming that Airbnb rentals are taxable like hotels. They're entitled to their opinion, but a court decides.

The defense here is obvious. I am not selling a public parking space. I am selling the information that it is about to become available.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 6:42 am

name to circle jerks.

Courts don't rule things until cases have been brought to them. Obviously Herrera would be remiss if he didn't bring this case--and if he does in this case it still doesn't establish that he's the best CA that San Francisco could hope for.

I recall living in North Beach in the early '80s there was a parking outfit that had a small lot basically across from the police station. I think it was $15 to park on a Friday or Saturday night--when parking was unobtainable in the neighborhood.

The parking jockies would right away start trying to park the cars on the street and once they had taken spots over they would then shuffle cars in and out of said spots without it ever returning them to general availablity. The small lot was probably no more than 15% of the space they had to sell.

Same dealio here. It's a mechanism to have stuff go to the highest bidder--and for someone to make a nice piece of coin in the process--rather than have it be fair to everone regardless of inflated wealth or income.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 7:27 am

He is merely expressing the opinion that the city can write tickets to drivers for this.

I doubt the city will ever catch a driver doing this as there are no outward indications that this app is being used. But it will only become a "case" when someone like me refuses to pay the ticket and the city tries to press collection.

Then the matter gets resolved. But the sale of information about public assets is distinct from the sale of those assets themselves.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 8:03 am

The City Attorney's job is to give legal opinions to city government; like when he opined uniquely that the ethics code could pertain to a non-felony that an elected official had done while not in office and allow the mayor to negate the outcome of an election. In this case the CA opined that it is illegal to sell public property. If you believe that not to be the case, I have a nice orange bridge with great views to sell you.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 8:23 am

He has often advised the city, and then the city was sued and lost.

Likewise, he advises the city to pass a law in a certain way, and then the courts bounce that law.

He is the lawyer for the city, and so of course he is going to advocate that the city can do this and that. But its not his decision ultimately.

Again, this is not the selling of public property. It is the selling of information about public property. You evidently do not get the distinction.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 8:34 am

City Attorney advice to legislators is different than the City Attorney opinion on existing law.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 8:49 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 9:16 am

I don't know exactly what his analysis is, but my understanding is that those selling the parking spaces are holding them until the buyers show up. The act of holding them after "selling the information about them" means that they are selling the spots. If they are sitting in their car waving-off people who inquire whether they are leaving, and then immediately leave once the person who they have "sold this information" to about the parking spot shows up, that establishes that they are selling public property. It's really so painfully simple even a troll could get it.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 8:58 am

(meter limits aside) in any event. Another driver may assume that i am going to leave just because I am sitting in the car, but I might be having a smoke, or making a phone call or listening to the radio or whatever.

So the issue isn't that I am not leaving a space. In fact, I am often waved on when I see someone who I think is going to leave. I control when I leave and therefore who gets my space anyway.

So the real issue here is whether I am entitled to see the information that I will be leaving in exactly five minutes. I believe that I am, and Herrera is just doing what he is paid to do - advocate for one side of the issue.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 9:19 am

I don't know whether Herrera is right or wrong here. I bet the law wasn't written with this in mind. I was just pointing out the misleading article, which says that this app was declared illegal by Herrera.

(Herrera is obviously playing this up for the free publicity. If I were the company, I'd do the same. I'd hold a big press conference about how great it is. The news coverage of that event would be great free advertising for the company.)

Posted by SFRealist on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

so this isn't like the city trying to pressure airbnb, that coincidentally is based in SF.

The city can do nothing about a foreign-domiciled website. In fact, even the federal government cannot, hence their losing battle against online poker sites.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 6:13 pm

This isn't like online poker. There are plenty of ways it could get shut down.

For instance, it the app is ruled illegal in a US court, I would wager that Apple would pull it from the Apple store.

(I'm not saying it will or it won't. I don't know. My original post was only about how we learn about the three branches of government in the third grade and apparently forget about them in journalism school.)

Posted by SFRealist on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

The app works in any city anywhere in the world.

So it's not a matter of closing down the app but rather how to police its use in SF. And that is what I am saying is going to be very, very difficult in practice.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2014 @ 6:10 am

"no outward indications that the app is being used .... " ... um, no, actually identifying people doing this is like shooting fish in a barrel. Think about decoy police officers posing as hookers and arresting the customers. Same thing here - you offer your space via MonkeyParking, and the 'winning bidder' is a cop ... how do you deny using the app ?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

They will probably set up a special elite squad just for people who are selling information about parking spaces about to be vacant.

In your dreams

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

Jason Grant Garza here ... let us be HONEST about the city attorney's office. In 2003 ( who was the city attorney at the TIME ) had my case C02-3485PJH dismissed with fraud and testilying and in 2007 the CITY signed a Settlement/Confession with the Office of Inspector General admitting fault and guilt for breaking FEDERAL EMERGENCY LAW (case C02-3485PJH)
It is 2014 and NO ONE from the courts, DPH, SFPD, Sheriff nor City Attorney's Office (is it the SAME one?) have explained. Here is just a little more TRUTH to sprinkle the cake with .. the TRUTH will out. By the way ... is this the same city attorney's office that would NOT prosecute DPH for the FALSE BOGUS restraining order that was used against me? ... P.S. I am still awaiting EXPLANATION from the city attorney's office since the CITY admitted to a CRIME and I am the VICTIM still following up. Again let us be HONEST about the City Attorney's Office and its role.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 11:00 am

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