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City Attorney to Parking Startup: No More Monkey Business

Scott Lucas | June 23, 2014 | Story Politics

Monkey Parking, a mobile app that allows users to auction off vacant parking spaces to other drivers, was never destined to be popular as something like Yo. Mostly because it's degrading, turning motorists into one of those down-on-their luck dudes who stand in parking spaces in hopes of netting a few bucks. But the app's unlikability didn't save it from being slapped by the San Francisco's legal department.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who knows a low-hanging illegal fruit when he sees one, has fired off a cease-and-desist letter today demanding that the Rome-based Monkey Parking, well, cease and desist. Herrera said in a statement this morning, "Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work—and Monkey Parking is not one of them. 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." The underlying principle of Herrera's argument: since the parking spaces are public, they shouldn't be privately commodified. (Hello, tragedy of the commons.)

Herrera called on Apple to remove Monkey Parking from its app store and also targeted two smaller public parking apps, called Sweetch and ParkModo. (Sweetch? ParkModo? Look, we get that Parking Karma has already been taken, but come on. You can do better than those names.) In a way, it's easy to predict the level of legal hostility to new technology. Disrupt another private entity, and there's little concern. (Did anybody cry when Netflix took the market away from Blockbuster?) Compete with a quasi-governmental or heavily regulated industry—like Uber and taxis or Airbnb and rentals—and you expect a little more friction. Going directly up against public resources, on the other hand, doesn't tend to end well. (There's a good reason nobody has released a 911 disrupter app).

It's important to remember, of course, that Herrera's cease-and-desist letter is not the same as a court finding the apps illegal. But we may not have to wait long for that—Herrera is threatening a lawsuit in July should the companies refuse to comply with his demands.

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