SF Parking App Warned By SF City Attorney Open-Sources Its Code

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Parking app Sweetch has open-sourced its code this morning in an effort to solve the parking crisis in San Francisco. The free, open-source project, called Freetch is open to any developer willing to work on solving parking problems for the city.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera called out Sweetch and other parking apps earlier this week in a cease-and-desist letter it sent to MonkeyParking. The letter specifically warned Sweetch and ParkModo, both of which the city believes “…similarly violate local and state law with mobile app-enabled schemes intended to illegally monetize public parking spaces.”

These parking apps could also face $300 fines per violation, and both companies are potentially liable for civil penalties of $2,500 per transaction for illegal business practices under the California Unfair Competition Law, according to the letter.

This may be why the Sweetch founders have now changed direction on their approach and opened up their code.

Sweetch users pay a flat rate of $5 for a spot and get paid $4 for notifying another driver when they leave their spot, whereas MonkeyParking works more like an auction. If someone accepts your bid for their spot, you get the spot. It’s unclear how ParkModo’s model will work, but recent Craigslist postings show they may be planning to pay drivers $13/hour to squat on parking spaces in order to save them for users.

However, Police Code section 63(c) states: “It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to enter into a lease, rental agreement or contract of any kind, written or oral, with or without compensation, for the use of any street or sidewalk.”

Sweetch addresses section 63(c) on its most recent blog post about the issue:

The San Francisco Transportation Code doesn’t prohibit selling information about parking spots. That’s why the City Attorney doesn’t cite the Transportation Code. Instead the City Attorney claims authority to issue fines under Section 63 of the Police Code – but that code section actually pertains to “Obstructions on City Streets and Sidewalks,” and doesn’t regulate parking at all. If you read that part of the Police Code, what it’s directed at preventing is the obstruction of streets or sidewalks with litter, potted trees, debris and so on—not with legally parked cars. And even if it was a parking regulation statute, it prohibits rental and leasing agreements; it doesn’t prevent people from sharing information about when they are going to leave parking spots. There’s simply no law on the books prohibiting this and the City Attorney is overreaching to say that there is.

All three parking apps contend they are not selling space, but simply information. MonkeyParking, meanwhile, refuses to halt operations in SF.

Sweetch founders say they hope the open-source offer makes city officials reconsider any actions they may want to take against them. Whether this is enough to curb any further action for at least one of the parking apps remains to be seen.