Paolo Dobrowolny, co-founder and CEO of MonkeyParking

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San Francisco parking app ban violates Constitution, firm says

28 June 2014 | By Rod Sweet | 0 Comments

The CEO of a parking app firm has called San Francisco’s ban on its use a misapplication of a local ordinance, a violation of free speech, and claims it would win any legal challenge against it.

On Monday San Francisco’s attorney, Dennis Herrera, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rome-based tech firm MonkeyParking, threatening it with a lawsuit unless it shuts down operations in San Francisco by July 11.

The MonkeyParking app lets users tell others when they are leaving their parking space early, and be paid for it. Currently the app works only in Rome and San Francisco.

Herrera’s letter cited a provision of San Francisco's Police Code that prohibits people from buying, selling or leasing public on-street parking. It warned that the company could be subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation if the city sued.

Now MonkeyParking CEO Paolo Dobrowolny has hit back, saying that his firm is not in the business of selling or auctioning parking spots, but rather information, and that San Francisco is behind the times when it comes to the “shared economy”.

In a statement emailed to GCR, Dobrowolny said: “The cease and desist letter that we received from the City of San Francisco is premised on a fundamentally wrong assumption: that our application purports to allow users ‘to buy and sell’ parking spaces. That is not the case.

“Users have the opportunity to be paid for the information communicated based on whether or not the communication successfully identifies a parking spot that is available.” He said the “shared economy” trades on information, not on goods or services or other commodities. 

“We are very surprised,” he said, “that the City of San Francisco, which prides itself of being a liberal and tolerating city, does not see that their cease and desist letter is an open violation of free speech, contrary to the First Amendment of the US Constitution (‘I have the right to tell people if I am about to leave a parking spot and they have the right to pay me for such information’).”

He went on: “This is yet another example of a local ordinance that was drafted in a world pre-shared economy which local authorities are improperly applying to a shared economy service.”

He added: “We are consulting with legal counsel as we speak but we are confident that we would prevail any such legal challenge against our service.”