Website fights San Francisco’s advertising law with contests 

A new website and Facebook page urges people to send in their horror stories about being slapped with parking tickets in The City, with four lucky winners having their tickets paid for by a group called San Francisco Small Business Owners for Fairness.

The group takes on classic San Francisco issues such as Muni on-time performance and public safety funding. It also adopted former Supervisor Chris Daly’s catch phrase, “It is on like Donkey Kong,” going so far as to use it for its website address.

But there’s more to the group.

The website is actually a public relations push against City Attorney Dennis Herrera and the Planning Department, both of whom are defending and applying a law that prohibits businesses from posting advertising outside their stores.

General advertising on private property was outlawed in San Francisco through a voter initiative in 2002. The law doesn’t apply to already-existing billboards, however, or businesses that post signage advertising products in their stores.

One way around the law is to post advertisements that have nothing to do with the business, but that have a tag line telling someone to come inside the store to enter a contest. That’s why a group called Contest Promotions has been able to post billboards on the side of businesses throughout San Francisco, paying the companies for the space.

The legality of the signs is currently being fought in federal court, but for now it appears Contest Promotions is fighting the battle in the arena of public opinion.

Alex Sumberg of the Honolulu-based Common Ground Group was hired by Contest Promotions to do the company’s website and Facebook page. He said he represents several small businesses in The City that have become overwhelmed with regulations.

“Businesses are complaining that they’re being harassed by The City, and it’s all the petty stuff that takes an hour here or an hour there that really gets on their nerves,” Sumberg said.

In addition to paying the parking tickets in exchange for a good story, the group is holding a monthlong contest to give away 100 $10 vouchers to neighborhood stores.

But all the talk about parking tickets, Muni and other small-business gripes appear to be a front for complaining about the sign ordinance, according to City Attorney’s Office spokesman Matt Dorsey.

“If they want to create a website to vent their frustrations, that’s their right,” Dorsey said.


Park at your own risk

The website encourages readers to share their parking ticket stories. Facts about San Francisco parking tickets:

  • $242.4M Expected revenue for SFMTA from parking tickets this year
  • $55 Street-sweeping violation
  • $65 Parking-meter violation (downtown)
  • $75 Yellow-zone violation
  • $90 Red- or white-zone violation

Source: SFMTA

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