Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Internet

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Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Internet

Postby admin » Fri Jun 12, 2015 10:02 am

WEDDINGS USED TO BE SACRED AND OTHER LESSONS ABOUT INTERNET JOURNALISM
by Sean Parker
June 27, 2013

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Editor’s note: Sean Parker is the executive general partner at Founders Fund. Previously he was co-founder of Napster, as well as the founding president of Facebook. He currently serves as a director of Spotify. Follow him on Twitter @sparker.

Our Wedding

My wife Alexandra and I met five years ago, fell in love, and almost immediately began fantasizing about our wedding day, which, we both agreed, should take place deep within an enchanted forest. (You know, sort of like Lothlórien, the mythical home of Galadriel in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.) We wanted our wedding to begin with “Once upon a time…” and end with “…and they lived happily ever after.” But life rarely works out the way it does in fairy tales, as much as we hoped it would. The story I’m about to tell, ironically, begins where many fairy tales end: with a wedding.

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On the day of our wedding, our friends and family walked by foot down a long winding path to the ceremony site. With each step the landscape grew ever more magical, more lush, and more surreal. Eventually our guests reached a beautiful gate in a clearing, just prior to entering the forest. Through that threshold, they left the ordinary world behind and entered an extraordinary world imagined as a kind of collaborative art project between me and my wife-to-be, Alexandra.

We wanted our wedding to be spiritual, though not overtly religious. Everyone is familiar with man-made cathedrals, but there is another kind of cathedral, built by God. In many old growth forests, redwood trees naturally grow in a circular configuration around the nutrient-rich soil where a dead tree once stood. Standing inside these clusters of trees, engulfed on all sides by the forest canopy, it’s hard not to be moved by the majesty of this natural “cathedral,” an ancient setting of unparalleled beauty.

We spent the better part of two years hiking through redwood forests all over California, trying to find the perfect spot for our wedding. Finding an old-growth redwood grove suitable for a wedding is no easy task. We enlisted the help of Save the Redwoods League, a noted conservation group, to help identify an appropriate site and also to provide advice on how to avoid harming the natural redwood habitat. With their guidance, we ultimately settled on a redwood grove within the campground of the Ventana Hotel & Spa in Big Sur, chosen largely because the site had already been developed, thereby minimizing the impact on the forest and avoiding the issue of a large number of guests trampling a “pristine” forest.

The vision for our wedding was to integrate with nature as much as possible — to bring out the natural beauty of the site while incorporating the kinds of modern amenities that one needs at a wedding. Because we wanted to avoid any harm to the forest, we asked the league to send their Director of Science, Emily Burns, down to the site to advise our landscape architect on “best practices” for working within the forest.

After the ceremony many of us felt as though we never wanted to leave that forest, and indeed many guests remained there until the sun came up the next morning. We lay on the flower-strewn pathway, looking up at the redwood canopy above. The fog rolling in from the ocean enveloped us, imbuing the moment with a feeling of supernatural bliss.

The Monday after our wedding we woke up in our hotel room, newly married, and still buzzing from the most exciting day of our lives. With all the stresses and anxieties of wedding planning behind us, we were finally ready to relax, take a deep breath of ocean air, and enjoy the romance of being together in Big Sur. Many of our friends who lingered recounted their memories of the wedding, describing the event using words like “beautiful,” “tasteful,” “enchanted,” “epic,” and “a fantasy.” There was a kind of magic in the air, and most newlywed couples would have been free to bask in the afterglow of that moment.

The Aftermath

We were not so lucky.

We awoke that morning to a media backlash of epic proportions, a firestorm of press attacking our wedding with the most vitriolic language we’d ever seen in print. At the same time, a mob of Internet trolls, eco-zealots, and other angry folk from every corner of the Internet unleashed a fury of vulgar insults, flooding our email and Facebook pages.

This was the sort of angry invective normally reserved for genocidal dictators.

These reactions were so extreme, so maniacal, so deeply drenched in expletives, they seemed wasted on us; this was the sort of angry invective normally reserved for genocidal dictators. Some of them were so over-the-top that, had the circumstances been different, we might have found them amusing. Of course, it’s hard to find anything amusing when strangers are publicly attacking your wife two days into your marriage. This was supposed to be the most intimate, sacred, precious and romantic event of our lives: our wedding day.

But nothing is sacred on the Internet, not even a wedding. The headlines made a hysterical case for the damage done to the site with such titles as: “Eco-wrecking Wedding“; “Ecological Wedding Disaster“; “$10 Million Destruction of a Park“; and “Tasteless Eco-trashing Wedding.” We were charged and convicted, by the Internet press and the court of public opinion, with every imaginable environmental crime.

Our wedding, it was written, illegally damaged the redwood forest, trashed a Big Sur campground, and threatened the habitat of a special-sounding fish, the “endangered” steelhead trout. The press described how we had “trampled” a “massive ancient redwood grove,” run roughshod over a “pristine” public park, leading to “sedimentation” of a creek that was a spawning ground for steelhead trout. The press claimed that redwood trees had been cut down by bulldozers, and that we had destroyed this very sensitive, fragile, redwood habitat. The wedding was widely derided as “tasteless,” “obnoxious,” and “extravagant.”

If our friends were sending us congratulatory messages, we never saw them. If Alexandra’s friends were complimenting her choice of wedding dress, she missed those messages. Indeed, if anyone was saying anything nice about our wedding, it was completely lost in the noise, drowned in the sea of hateful, spiteful messages. Our marriage announcement and wedding photo on Facebook elicited hundreds of these messages from angry bystanders telling us to “fuck off,” and calling us “selfish,” “contemptible,” “disgusting,” and “hypocrites.” Descriptions of me included the words “douchebag” and “prick,” of my wife, the words “gold-digger” and “whore.” Luckily amongst the rabble were some unusually creative hate-mongers who managed to keep our attention by dispensing inventive insults like “douchemonster,” “jackassery,” “jackwagon” and, my personal favorite, “douche canoe.” (I have no idea what a “douche canoe” or a “jackwagon” is, but I’m assuming they are neither forms of transportation nor compliments.)

We were told that we should be “hung” for our crimes, “preferably on a lamppost since trees are too good [for them].” A number of people thought jail time “to make an example of [him],” was warranted. A more thoughtful commenter suggested that “jail time in Salinas with the Norteños” would be a more appropriate punishment than, you know, regular old jail time. That just wouldn’t do.

We expected the histrionic media backlash to be short-lived. That may have been wishful thinking. The assault continued for days, with wave after wave of articles, each headline more hyperbolic and more scathing than the last, each story further inflating the alleged cost of the wedding, the damages, and the personal attacks.

After days of enduring this public beating, I had reached my limit. I took to the Internet to defend our wedding, hastily penning a letter intended to refute the most damning story, Alexis Madrigal’s post in The Atlantic Wire, which had labeled our wedding “the perfect parable of Silicon Valley excess.” Though not alone in his criticism, Madrigal’s voice stood out among the crowd of voices condemning our wedding, partly because his story was better articulated and came from an otherwise credible writer, and partly because it drew sweeping conclusions about me and Alexandra, our intentions, and the deliberate and wanton nature of our so-called crimes.

Never mind that none of the accusations were actually true. Truth has a funny way of getting in the way of a great story.

Setting the Record Straight

I cannot be too hard on Alexis Madrigal, as he was kind enough to read my email, kind enough to apologize, and had the strength of character and journalistic integrity to post my email publicly along with a sort of retraction, something most reporters would be too prideful to do. As I wrote in my response to him, nobody chooses to get married in a redwood forest unless they love redwood forests. Furthermore, our wedding did not take place in a park, on a nature reserve, or on any other form of protected public land. We rented our wedding site from a company operating a luxury hotel, the Ventana Inn & Spa, owned by two multi-billion-dollar private equity firms, both experienced players in California real estate. The site of the wedding was a private, for-profit, vehicular campground, largely paved over in black asphalt, full of compacted dirt, giant holes dug in the forest floor and mounds of dirt piled up around those holes.

The natural vegetation you would expect to find in a pristine redwood forest had been bulldozed – no sorrel leaf ground cover, no ferns, no wildflowers. While many old growth trees remained on the property, the site had been subjected to a century of logging, and much of the remaining forest was second or third growth. All of the greenery you see in our photos, the ferns and other plants, had to be brought into the site, by us, in order to recreate the look of an undisturbed redwood forest, which this forest was decidedly not.

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Many press reports have focused on the notion that we had somehow harmed the environment. This is simply not true. No redwood trees were harmed in any way. No endangered species were harmed, and, in fact, none were resident on the property. Fabric liners were used to protect the ground from our landscaping work. We were careful not to plant directly in the ground – we brought in potted plants instead.

Lisa Haage, the California Coastal Commission’s Chief of Enforcement, said at the Commission hearing last Friday that “the environmental damage from the wedding-related construction work was less serious than we had originally feared, in part due to the fact that the large majority of the development was performed on a campground and existing road, not in a virgin forest.”

From the outset, our goal was to leave the forest in significantly better condition than we found it. Everything on site was built to be temporary. The set pieces were hollow, created off-site and pieced together like Legos on the property. Even the stonework had no mortar inside it to facilitate easy disassembly.

We had no obligation — legal, contractual or otherwise — to apply for permits. We weren’t the property owner, nor were we “leasing” the property from the owner. We had paid the hotel an event fee in order to make use of their campground for the purpose of hosting our wedding. We had no legal standing to apply for permits related to a property we didn’t own. Not only that, we couldn’t have known what permits were required short of asking the property owner, which we had done prior to renting the property, and the management of the hotel had informed us that none were required. It was incumbent upon the property owner to inform us of any land-use restrictions or permit issues related to the property.

From the outset we shared our plans for installing theatrical backdrops and other wedding-related equipment with the hotel. And the hotel was an active participant in the construction process — it wasn’t as if we were making preparations on Mars — this was all happening in the hotel’s backyard, and the hotel management was onsite every day supervising the project. They never hinted at any issues with the California Coastal Commission or any other government agency. In fact, I had not even heard of the California Coastal Commission until this incident. Why would I have? I don’t own any property in the California coastal zone. Had I known about any of these issues prior to renting the site, I would have taken my business elsewhere.

Then there was this question of a certain fish, the “steelhead trout,” that was purportedly threatened by our wedding preparation. The media reported that this fish was an “endangered” species whose spawning ground was a creek near our wedding site. Yet a simple Google query of “steelhead trout” reveals that this fish is not, as the media had reported, a truly “endangered” species, but rather a fancy variant of the common “rainbow trout” that is abundant across North America — so abundant, in fact, that it is sometimes considered a pest species. (The steelhead, like salmon, travels upstream and spends its life in the ocean. This variant of the rainbow trout has seen its populations fall in some areas of California where it is protected, but it’s hardly the endangered species the press made it out to be. In fact, the National Wildlife Federation reports that rainbow trout is “not at risk of extinction.”)

The California Coastal Commission’s own publicly available report on the matter refers to a stream, called the Post Creek, that apparently runs through the property, although they were noncommittal about whether or not the trout was actually present in the stream, or even if the stream contained enough water for the trout to spawn. There was a chance, the report stated, that our construction “could” have led to sedimentation of this stream, which in turn “could” have prevented fish from getting on with their business. In the days leading up to the wedding, multiple biologists visited the site and their reports confirmed “no increased turbidity” in the stream, meaning no “sedimentation” had occurred. Even more ridiculous, the part of the creek where these fish, if they existed in the creek at all, would have been spawning, was not on the part of the property where the wedding construction had taken place.

If only the media had read the documents, perhaps this public crucifixion would have abated. But no, the media couldn’t be bothered with any of these facts, hidden as they were in plain view, especially since they were engaged in the serious business of reputation assassination against a “disgusting,” “appalling,” “eco-trashing,” rich guy. So it’s not surprising that the media also conveniently failed to mention the most important detail of all.

The campground, which was supposed to be open to the public as a for-profit venture of the hotel, had actually been closed since 2007, largely due to a rather unfortunate, and literally stinking incident. It turns out that Monterey County inspectors had discovered the presence of human waste leaking into Post Creek. The nearly dry, putative spawning ground of the steelhead trout, had, in fact, become a bath of human waste stemming from the faulty, or otherwise inadequate, wastewater treatment facility on the hotel property. This led Monterey County to issue an order, for obvious public health reasons, to close the campground pending the remediation of this wastewater treatment facility.

This was a big part of what the media had missed in its rush to judgment. Due to the publicity around our wedding, the commission began looking into the site and discovered, unbeknownst to us, that the campground had been illegitimately closed to the public for six years. The major infraction, from the perspective of the California Coastal Commission, was not damage to the redwood habitat caused by the wedding, but rather the fact that development had occurred on the site without the property owner (the hotel) seeking a permit, and, moreover, that the hotel was obligated to keep the site open to the public as a commercial campground. This issue — the closure of the campground to the public — was not caused by us, it was in no way our fault, but it was unearthed when the commission began investigating the hotel due to our wedding.

In order to understand the importance of this issue, one must first understand that the California Coastal Commission is charged with two primary responsibilities: first, regulating development in the coastal zone in order to protect coastal resources; and second, ensuring public and recreational access to the coast, considered to be a public resource in California. The commission is empowered to protect that public access via fines levied against property owners, but, technically speaking, it needs to take property owners to court in order to do that. The commission largely settles these disputes through contracts called “consent orders.” Even the name of these contracts emphasizes the fact that they are not so much “orders” as they are, strictly speaking, consensual. Only when the commission is unable to reach these settlements do they refer the matter to the court system, an expensive process for California taxpayers, and one that, in practice, rarely happens.

So the commission’s biggest issue turned out to have nothing to do with the wedding itself: The commission was upset that the low-cost campground had been closed to the public since 2007. In a settlement agreement dating back to 1982 between the California Coastal Commission and the Ventana, the hotel was required, as a condition of its permit to operate a luxury hotel, to maintain this public camping facility. That plan was derailed when noxious human waste started showing up in the creek some years later and Monterey County shut down the campground.

The commission claimed they were never properly notified, effectively pitting the desires of these two government agencies against each other. The Ventana was, in the eyes of the commission, liable for damages related to the campground closure from 2007 onward. This was acknowledged publicly on June 12th by commission spokeswoman Sarah Christie who told the Monterey County Weekly: “Mr. Parker, in essence, leased an ongoing Coastal Act violation when he leased the campground.”

The Media Reaction

“It does not do to leave a dragon out of your calculations—if you live near him.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

The biggest mistake we made in wedding planning was forgetting about the media: that silent, invisible dragon breathing down our necks all along. Nothing has been more shocking to me than the media’s handling of this “controversy”: there were hundreds of articles written, and yet — incredibly — there was only one reporter who bothered to ask us for comment prior to publishing their story.

While not every publication operates this way (some abstained from participating in a public lynching, and a few traditional journalists such as this publication and this one published accurate rebuttals afterwards), the fact that so many did engage in the misinformed attacks, even credible outlets like The Atlantic, stands as a stunning testament to the state of online journalism. How could nearly every single reporter have failed to conduct any interviews with anyone at all, let alone ask the very subject of their stories for comment? We would have gladly responded and perhaps much of this anguish could have been avoided.

I have known the media to be irresponsible at times, but this represents a new low. The media should not get a free pass for publishing erroneous information, making baseless allegations, and impugning the sanctity of a private wedding, especially without conducting any investigation or interviews. Rather than basing their reporting on primary source material, the online tabloid press just piled onto the story, sourcing each other, and churning out increasingly sensational and exaggerated headlines as fast as they could type them. I’ve never seen a story get so much play where nearly every reporter did no original reporting.

They literally couldn’t be bothered with it: Hundreds of reporters called exactly zero sources, asked exactly zero questions, did exactly zero research, and even managed to ignore the information contained in readily available public documents. In the fast-and-loose world of “blogging for dollars,” it probably feels like a waste of time to do original reporting when writing snarky stories with a paucity of facts is a more efficient way to generate traffic. Regardless, it was astonishing to see this volume of inaccurate, derivative stories written without any concern for fact checking or sourcing.

When I got started in this industry almost 20 years ago, things were different. Back then there were no blogs, no Twitter or Facebook, and the editorial world was still a growing business. The reporters I interacted with diligently researched their stories, tracked down sources, conducted interviews, and even fact-checked their stories before publication. The trouble with online media is that there’s no incentive for them to do any of this. It’s easier to generate traffic with snarky stories than hard news, and there’s no downside for getting the facts of a story wrong, or even making it up entirely. The law offers no recourse, since being a “public figure” denies you, for all intents and purposes, any protection under libel laws. The blogs attack you, do their damage, and then move on to their next target. Now, because of the permanence of the Internet and the ease of Google, these vicious online attacks leave behind a reputational stain that is very difficult to wash out.

Anatomy Of A Crisis

The story of how we ended up stuck with a $1 million bill for infractions that were not, legally, our responsibility, and how we decided to make an additional $1.5 million in charitable contributions, begins as most things do, with a leak. Alexandra and I had been working towards the vision of our perfect fairy-tale wedding for close to two years.

A slightly embarrassing confession is in order: My wife and I are huge nerds. And as the press has speculated, we threw something of a big fat nerd wedding. Alexandra and I have always been fantasy buffs, in particular devotees of “high fantasy.” We both devoured books in the genre growing up and we both reserved a special place in our hearts for Tolkien, seeing as how fantasy, or as Tolkien puts it “fairy stories,” could be a device for exploring big archetypal human themes with a strong moral compass. Good and evil. Power and responsibility. Death and immortality. As a young girl, Alexandra was a member of a fantasy writing society. She’s loathe to admit it, but she even celebrated a few recent birthdays at Medieval Times.

One of the most salient themes of our ceremony, and also of our vows, was the notion of “sanctuary” – finding a literal and existential place of solace where my wife and I could be together, alone with our thoughts, at peace with ourselves, able to express ourselves openly without fear of judgment or social scrutiny. In this sense, “sanctuary” is about the freedom to express our “true” selves to each other, which is fundamental to intimacy. Such a place is increasingly difficult to find in our technologically supercharged and hyper-connected world. Unless you’ve chosen to lead a monastic life, apart from society, then you are undoubtedly subjected to socially reinforced notions of who you are and what you represent within your society. For those cursed with celebrity or notoriety, the imposition of external assumptions about your identity is only exaggerated.

We chose a setting for our wedding that was a literal expression of our search for sanctuary — a place that was safe, private, and intimate. We chose a remote location (Big Sur), invited no press, and did our best to conceal that location from the press. We didn’t court attention — quite the opposite, we asked guests to check their cell phones and cameras at the door and we didn’t sell our photos to tabloids. It’s possible that the backlash which compromised the sanctity of the event was exacerbated by our desire to preserve the privacy of our special day. (The monsters of the tabloid press, like dragons, are happier when fed.) In the frenzy to cover our wedding the press had nothing to run but construction photos of the wedding and nothing to talk about but this bogus eco-destroying theme.

Our wedding was the antithesis of the technology-infested world we live in; a world that I have played a role in creating. It was an homage to the natural environment. It was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to force 364 otherwise self-respecting adults to dress up in elaborate fantasy-inspired costumes, a feat of mischief that we were delighted to attempt. The Academy Award winning costume designer (for “Lord of the Rings”), Ngila Dickson, was our co-conspirator, and her brilliant designs exceeded even our wildest dreams.

This emphasis on privacy was why it came as such a surprise when the tabloid news outlet TMZ began making claims about our wedding, including wholly exaggerated claims related to the money we were spending on it. These fictional rumors raised questions in the local community about our wedding. This was our first clue that there might be issues with the media, yet with a couple of months to go before the wedding, things seemed to be on track. My relationship with the Ventana was cordial, and I had no reason to expect any major glitches.

Then disaster struck. Just 20 days prior to our wedding, the hotel received a call from the California Coastal Commission asking us to stop work. The media attention around the wedding had incited the curiosity of the local community who had referred the matter to Monterey County, who in turn had referred the matter to the commission. We’d never heard of the commission at that point. Naturally we complied with the request and I scrambled to find someone who knew something about this mysterious government agency.

After two years of wedding planning we were now within weeks of the big day. By that point, all of our guests were already booked into hotels and all of the preparations had already been made. The weeks preceding a wedding are critical; they’re the busiest weeks for the planners, designers, and staff. There were hundreds of creative people working on the project who had poured their hearts into it, just as we had. Now my bride-to-be was in danger of losing her wedding. I didn’t want to let her down.

As soon as the Ventana found out there was an issue they threatened to cancel the wedding unless I entered into a broad indemnification agreement. We had nowhere to turn at that point, no backup plan, and there was no place in the Big Sur area that could accommodate 360 guests. We had all of our equipment, materials, decorations, and other items on site and we would not have been able to relocate them without a commission settlement. Ironically, if the process of placing everything on the site constituted “development,” then so would the process of removing it. I was caught in the middle of this dispute between the Ventana ownership and the CCC, doing my best to help them resolve the issues so the wedding could proceed.

The commission provides a “temporary event exemption” which should, in theory, cover the kind of temporary development that goes into a wedding. (Although the modifications we made to the site were all temporary, our wedding involved some heavy landscaping, such as stonemasonry, the installation of a small fake pond, and other theatrical flourishes that might have disqualified it.) All of the work we did, it should be noted, was placed on the existing paved or cleared areas of the campground, and it was all designed from the outset to be removed immediately after the wedding.

We were backed up against a wall. Ultimately, the Ventana was unwilling to accept any financial responsibility and preferred to cancel our wedding rather than work things out with the commission. We had no choice but to step in and pay for all of their violations, both the un-permitted construction and also past liability related to the campground closure.

Those 20 nail-biting days leading up to the wedding were some of the most stressful days of my life; we had no assurance the wedding would even take place. At the lowest point in the whole process I had to inform Alexandra that there was a very good chance we would not be getting married on June 1. The anxiety of moving forward with a production this big and this important without certainty was dreadfully taxing.

The commission alleged that un-permitted development had been undertaken. Not wanting to appear “soft” on rich people in a high-profile case, the commission took a hard line in its staff report on the possible harm caused. As much as I respect the mission and hard work done by the California Coastal Commission, it is important to note that the world of “consent orders” is a world of hypotheticals. Everything in a consent order is alleged, not proven, and the commission generally takes a “kitchen sink” sort of approach toward creating these consent orders and accompanying staff reports. The key to writing an effective one is to pick out every imaginable, conceivable, possible argument one could make, no matter how far-fetched, in order to justify the largest possible fine against the alleged infringer. Without direct effective enforcement power, the commission is forced to take this aggressive stance, laying out their allegations in much the same way that a plaintiff drafts a lawsuit.

This point is illustrated in the words of Mary Shallenberger, chairwoman of the commission: “If Mr. Parker had not been willing to settle with us, if he had dug his heels in and said, ‘Heck no,’ you know, the only option would have been to go to court on this issue. So I thank him for doing it voluntarily and working with our staff; but had he not been willing to do that, we would not have the authority to impose or even require that he negotiate with us and accept any kind of penalty.” (The commission probably needs greater power to impose fines like most other commissions, but along with this power they need to temper the ferocity of their approach.)

Some media reports took the position that wealthy people “can buy their way out of anything.” And yet my settlement was the largest settlement in the history of the commission. The reason it was so large was not because my violations were so heinous, but because I was backed into a corner and had no choice but to give in to any demands made of me by the hotel or the commission.

So-called “rich guys” don’t get any special treatment with the commission. If anything they get a worse deal. The commission is sensitive about appearances; they can’t be seen letting a “rich guy” off too easy. And there was nothing special about the fact that I settled with them rather than going to court. Since the commission cannot impose fines directly (they need to refer matters to the court system), they are highly motivated to settle cases. In fact, most cases are settled with “consent orders” and never make their way to court. This is good for the commission and it’s also good for the people of California — litigation is expensive and settlements bring in funds that can be used for coastal conservation and restoration projects. In a press release after the settlement was announced Mary Shallenberger states: “Any time we can settle a violation and avoid litigation, we consider that a good outcome.”

I spent five hours with CCC staff at their headquarters, and we worked out the terms of the settlement. I would be covering the $1 million in fines for un-permitted construction that was technically the hotel’s responsibility, covering their past violations, and also providing “mitigation” far beyond what would be normal in a case like this. The consent orders and staff reports are customarily written to sound harsh in order to justify the fines. This was part of what led the press, largely unfamiliar with the inner-workings of the commission, to draw such extreme conclusions. In its defense, the commission was kind enough to offer language in its press release about how I had “been cooperative,” but this was generally overlooked by reporters who chose to focus on the alleged infractions as though they were hard facts and, unfortunately, as though they were my fault.

Our wedding was set to occur on Saturday, June 1. We endured 18 days of brutal negotiation — a three-way negotiation between us, the hotel, and the California Coastal Commission. The tension grew with each passing day, and throughout this process we mentally prepared ourselves for the worst — that we would not reach agreement with all parties and that the wedding would be cancelled. The week of the wedding things were still unsettled. Finally, on the Thursday before the wedding we reached agreement, and by 6 a.m., the morning before our wedding, I signed the consent order. That settlement would cover not only the hotel’s liability for the un-permitted development but also a host of prior infractions that predated our use of the site. I also volunteered a rather large charitable contribution — $1.5 million — which would be used for coastal-related projects in the local community.

The wedding was going to happen. I was getting married. I would be able to see the look on Alexandra’s face when she walked down the aisle.

Our wedding day was a beautiful dream come true. After all the stress of the preceding 19 days, the wedding itself went off without a hitch. Afterwards we were excited to run away on our honeymoon and forget about everything.

Then the media backlash began. The next thing I knew the media was portraying me as a crass, insensitive, eco-trashing billionaire, cartoonishly driving a gigantic hell-razing bulldozer, gleefully plowing down what remained of “Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.” The Sacramento Bee literally turned me into a political cartoon.

I had become the media’s latest whipping boy, an icon of the newly minted Silicon Valley elite gone bad, and now the media was clearly trying to peg me as the sort of symbol of excess who needs to make an appearance in popular mythology every so often. The 80s had Milken, the 90s had Ebbers, and the financial crisis of the last few years gave us an entire cast of villains, including the infamous Madoff. Maybe the media was growing impatient with the lack of recent criminal behavior from the super rich?

I was pegged as the latest in a long line of public figures who fit this tired old stereotype, a corrupt, villainous businessman who co-opts the political system, shadily buys his way out of problems, and tramples a protected ecological zone in the process. For the media, I was just a convenient example of a next-generation business leader gone to the dark side. Yet I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was terribly miscast in the role I was being asked to play. For starters, the facts of the case didn’t support this portrayal, and my own attitudes and beliefs couldn’t have been more contradictory. My infatuation with redwood forests and conscientious approach to selecting and decorating the site were at odds with the depiction. And given my progressive politics, idealism, and general anti-establishment bias, I had the distinct feeling that, had any of these reporters actually met me, they might have been sorely disappointed by their choice of candidate; perhaps the way the Republicans had felt about Mitt Romney.

I’ve been used as a plot device before — the film The Social Network established this caricature of me in the media’s imagination: the morally reprehensible “brogrammer” douchebag. I had been mythologized. The more I thought about this notion, the more I began to realize that myths are stories that have a life of their own, stories so good that people keep telling and re-telling them, even if they’re not true. I suppose the myth that was created about me was too good of a story for people, including the media, to stop telling it. This myth about me lives on in spite of me, and after I’m gone, it may even live on without me.

If I was such a callous jerk, then why was the commission lauding me for my efforts? Shortly after the brunt of the backlash, on June 14, the public hearing of the California Coastal Commission took place and the Chairwoman, Mary Shallenberger, thanked me for the role I played in exposing the longstanding violations of the hotel: “I thank Mr. Parker for having his wedding there so we discovered all the violations and the six years where the public has not had access,” said Shallenberger.

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Protecting the Redwoods

There are very real threats facing the redwood forests. Our wedding was not one of them. The media, in referring to the redwood forest, consistently used adjectives like “fragile” and “sensitive,” implying that the kind of work we were doing in the forest amongst these towering giants could somehow harm them.

The reality is that the redwood forest is a robust and resilient ecosystem, able to survive all manner of insults hurled at them by nature and humans alike, from fire, to insect infestations, and even drought. “Redwood forests are hearty places,” writes Emily Burns, Director of Science at the Save the Redwoods League and a specialist in redwood ecology. The hollowed-out shell of a burnt redwood tree, somehow still alive, is a familiar sight for anyone who has spent time hiking amongst redwood trees. There is even a popular tourist attraction, the Chandelier Tree, that lives on despite a massive hole cut in it the base of its trunk, a hole so large you can drive a car through it.

There is, however, one thing certain to destroy a redwood forest, and that is logging. The practice of logging redwood forests for their lumber continues in California to this day, and old-growth redwood trees are given no exception. Roughly one-third of all remaining old-growth redwood forest is owned by timber companies and, contrary to what one might expect, these trees are offered no protection under California or Federal law.

Prior to logging, it is believed there were at least 2,100,000 acres of coast redwood forest in California. Today only 5 percent of that original forest remains, and roughly 133,000 acres of that is preserved in California’s Redwood State and National Parks. At least 100,000 acres of old-growth coast redwood is in the hands of commercial timber companies, and therefore at risk, and very little is being done about it. In an email after the media backlash began, Emily Burns, of Save the Redwoods League, pointed to the flagrant absurdity of the response: “It’s amusing that people focus their attention on this event when the redwoods face actual threats elsewhere that are much more worthy of gossip!”

The League is one of the few organizations that is actually doing something about these threats, largely by raising money to purchase land, either to place conservation easements on that land, or contribute it to the state park system. During the introduction of enhanced logging technology in the early 20th century, which led to more rapid deforestation, the league played a vital role in saving what few redwood forests remain. They were early leaders in the conservation movement, founding the California State Park system and then purchasing as much old-growth redwood forest as they could for the past century. It’s largely because of their efforts that we still have any of the original old-growth redwoods left at all.

I strongly believe that redwood forest should be a protected ecosystem, but that is not true today. A variety of media reports related to our wedding stated that the area we were in was a “protected” ecosystem. The campground we rented was subject to land-use restrictions imposed by the California Coastal Commission, but, regrettably, redwood forests, themselves, have no special legal status in California.

I would argue that they should, that what remains of old growth forest should be protected from logging and development. (Despite the label given to California’s redwoods, “coast redwoods,” most of these forests are not located in the coastal zone and therefore they enjoy no protection by the Coastal Commission or any other state agency.) All of the misleading press about our wedding does nothing but reinforce the unhelpful misconception that old-growth redwood forests are actually a protected ecosystem when they are not.

The last two weeks have demonstrated just how cruel and senseless the online community can be. But Alexandra and I are pretty resilient people, and like the redwood trees we were married under, we’ve survived worse insults. There is no point pouting about what happened; we’re better off making the best of a bad situation. One way is by calling attention to the real crimes being committed against the redwood forest. We will continue to support organizations like Save the Redwoods League. We’re also going to do everything we can to make the $1.5 million charitable contribution we’ve offered really count. We are open to your creative suggestions as to how that donation should be spent. The project must be conservation or public access-related, and must be based on the Monterey Peninsula.

In the End, What’s the Lesson, Really?

If our wedding wasn’t “the perfect parable of Silicon Valley excess” as Alexis Madrigal originally claimed, then what kind of parable was it? What lesson, if any, should we, collectively, take from this saga? The perfect parable of our dehumanized detachment from each other, a result of the distance technology has created between us? The perfect parable of a broken, malfunctioning media? Or is it the modern version of the myth of Icarus, who dared fly too close to the sun?

This is the question for pundits. It may be that there is no lesson at all, at least not one that’s broadly applicable. Speaking personally, this entire experience has prompted me to think about the state of journalism, in particular the way in which social media, blogging, the acceleration of the news cycle, and the flattening of the media landscape have altered journalism over the past decade. One could easily write off what happened with a blanket criticism of the media: They’ve become link-baiting jackals who believe that “truth” is whatever drives clicks.

Yet this simplistic characterization overlooks the deeper structural changes the media has undergone in recent years, some of which I helped instigate. I have often wondered if we’re better off as a society now that the media has “opened up,” with fewer barriers to entry, less friction, and more voices included in the debate. Have the changes wrought by the Internet (broadly) and social media (narrowly) been helpful to civil society, harmful, or some combination of both? This is a question that must be posed to journalists themselves. As someone who is often the subject of press reports, I have only one part of the requisite experience to make that determination.

Regardless, I can’t escape the feeling that there is a kind of cosmic irony at work here. Readers of this publication are likely familiar with my career in the technology sector. I have spent more than a decade creating products built on the premise that the democratization of media was a good thing, that self-publishing, the free sharing of information, and the removal of the media “gatekeepers” would all lead to a freer, more open media — with the implied assumption that this was a “better” media. I practiced what I preached, both talking about and designing systems around the core belief that empowering people with the tools to more freely access and share information — be it music, links, photos, text, or any other form of media — could only make the world a better place.

Two of my companies, Plaxo and Facebook, were built around the idea that “identity” was a cornerstone of online discourse. I believed that introducing real identity — names and faces — into the anonymous free-for-all of the Internet, would lead to accountability, and that this was a necessary, if not sufficient condition for online discourse. Accountability would help enable civility and responsibility, facilitate the creation of systems that would allow the cream to rise naturally to the top. This, combined with clever algorithmic filters, might diminish the importance of human editors. I never believed “identity” was some kind of panacea, but it certainly seemed as though it was an essential deterrent to bad actors in a medium that had few, if any, standards of conduct.

And yet, as if by some process of karmic retribution, the mediums I dedicated my life to building have all too often become the very weapon by which my own character and reputation has been mercilessly attacked in public. No thanks to the moderating powers of identity and accountability, users of these mediums are happy to attack me publicly, in plain view, using their real names and identities, no veil of anonymity required. I have watched as these new mediums helped foment revolutions, overturn governments, and give otherwise invisible people a voice, and I have also watched them used to extend the impact of real-world bullying from physical interactions into the online world, so kids growing up today can now be tormented from anywhere. I have also witnessed these mediums used to form massive digital lynch mobs, which I have been at the mercy of more than once. I guess it’s only fitting that I would be; the universe has a funny way of returning these things in kind.

Economically speaking I came out on top. I have been one of the greatest individual beneficiaries of this seismic shift in media. I have made, quite literally, “a billion dollars,” which, as I’m constantly reminded by the media, is “cool.” But I’m the first to admit that this shift away from a centralized, top-down media towards a decentralized bottom-up media did not come without a cost. At some point in time everyone, whether they engage actively with these new mediums or not, will experience a violation of their privacy, will find their reputation besmirched publicly, and may even find their sanity challenged by some combination of these factors. (The story of Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, comes to mind.)

A kind of mob mentality reigns supreme in the unrestricted, uncivilized world of social media: whether it is found on Facebook, on Twitter, in blogs, or even in the remnants of traditional journalism, where the old guard is now forced to compete with the instantaneous news cycle of the “real-time web” and the blogosphere. The economics of this new media have, in so many ways, rendered obsolete the economics of the old journalism and the value system that went along with it. The ethics of journalism, a commitment to objectivity, accuracy, and civility, formed a kind of loose social contract between the creators and consumers of news.

This code was embraced by the entire news-making industry, indoctrinated into students at journalism schools, and reinforced by the editorial boards of respected news outlets. This value system was hard-earned over the last century. Born out of the corrupt politics of the early 20th century and the “yellow” journalism of Hearst and Pulitzer, it was only gradually displaced by the values of a new generation of publishers that adhered to higher standards of journalistic integrity. Eventually this led to the era of the professional journalist as we once knew her, with her code of ethics and the institutions that supported her — the great bastions of journalism: the newspaper empires built by the Grahams and Sulzbergers and the giants of the broadcast journalism world, people like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, who cast penumbral shadows across the careers of every news anchorman who followed them.

By the late 1990s the system was beginning to show signs of wear. The loss of revenue from newspaper classified advertising to companies like Craigslist, Monster.com, eBay, and other listings sites was only the first shot across the bow. The massive shift in advertising revenue toward Google, and later Facebook, was the cannon fire that followed. But the real war over journalism was a war of attrition, as the web, blogs, and advertising technology gradually ate away at what remained of journalism.

This long cold war was fought and lost over measurement: The old guard finally gave in to the commoditization and sensationalization of news when “clicks” became the ultimate and determinative measure of value in the news ecosystem. The public had always mildly distrusted the business of journalism, believing that headlines sold papers, but they at least believed in the purpose of those papers — in their importance. Now no higher purpose remains; headlines drive clicks, and clicks sell ads. Only the most dogmatic, or perhaps idealistic, reporters remain capable of believing in a higher set of motivations. Many writers, who once would have self-identified as journalists, are now just as happy to be called writers, or even “entertainers.”

At best their job is to produce original content, generating stories in the hope that someone will read and enjoy them. At worst it has become the repackaging of content into the digital drivel known as “click-bait,” the nearly automatic rehashing and regurgitating of nonsense news, contrived to tell whatever seems to be the most sensational story, and repeated endlessly within the “echo chamber” of social media. This new media opines and remarks on everything, contributes precious few objective facts to the debate, and reports on precisely nothing at all. It took a century to establish the economic, social, and legal frameworks that supported journalism. In under a decade those systems have been largely dismantled, abandoned and rendered obsolete.

Economically speaking, I profited handsomely from the destruction of the media as we knew it. The rest of the world did not make out so well, and society certainly got the worse end of the bargain. The decentralization of media got off to a promising start, but like so many other half-baked revolutions, it never fulfilled its early promise. In its present form, social media may be doing more harm than good. Perhaps we should have expected this — technology always leads the way, society and government inevitably play catch-up.

Now that social media has collapsed the traditional media roles of content producer, editor, publisher, and consumer into one and assigned those roles to literally everyone, it’s clear we need to collectively evolve our social norms to reflect this new reality. And wherever you stand on the questions of privacy and the Faustian pact struck between the federal government, technology companies and Congress over digital surveillance, it’s increasingly clear that our legal frameworks for dealing with these new mediums are outmoded at best. It’s natural for innovators, especially those creating entirely new industries, to have a laissez-faire bias, and they are right to think that way.

While new technologies will inevitably present new challenges that society must someday deal with, the “rush to regulate” risks smothering the infant in the cradle. Technologies first need to be allowed to grow up, mature, and become a part of an institutional social fabric before governments intervene. However, now that so many new mediums seem to be nearing adulthood, it may be time to start rethinking our collective relationship to these mediums.

In particular, we need to consider stronger privacy laws here in the U.S., a basic right to privacy along the lines of the laws enjoyed by the citizens of most Western European nations. We are all at risk of becoming “public figures” in a world where the media has expanded to include nearly everyone. In such a world, our defamation laws need to be updated to provide individuals with the protection from public persecution that they deserve. We also need to reinforce our personal privacy by beefing up the intellectual property laws that govern the personal content that we generate and share via services like Facebook.

The more we depend on social networks and other online services to share content with friends and family, the more we risk that our content inadvertently becomes public. The enforceability of intellectual property laws around user-generated content — our photos, videos, and other content — is one of the best protections we have. The media has, in many cases, chosen to broadly construe all content shared via these networks as “public” when in fact much of it is private, and the copyright on that private material belongs to the creator. Sharing photos on Facebook should no more constitute a public license to use those photos than sending them over email.

The ubiquitous license agreements and privacy policies that online services force their users to enter into should be scrutinized by the courts around the principle of adhesion, and if the courts are unwilling to reconsider the status quo then congress should intervene with legislation limiting the scope and enforceability of these agreements. We also need to be willing to consider that only Congress can prevent the abuse of governmental power that is used to coerce online services into to turning over data in a wholesale manner.

I am certain that social networks, technology companies, and telecommunications companies would prefer not to kowtow to governments around the world, but operating a service on the scale of Facebook or Google puts these companies in the crosshairs of governmental agencies of all kinds. Once a company has reached this scale, only governments pose a meaningful existential threat. It is therefore incumbent upon the legislature to craft appropriate boundaries that strike a balance between the valid needs of governmental authorities and the equally valid privacy demands of Internet users.

In the end, the lesson learned from my wedding was something much less obvious than the “parable of excess” that was claimed. Rather, the democratization of the media that I idealized in my youth when it was just a distant, blurry dream, suddenly seems much less worthy of idolatry now that it’s become a stark reality. The lesson for me, felt acutely over the past two weeks, ended up being a familiar moral to a familiar story: “Be careful what you wish for — you might just get it.”

Summary Points

• The wedding site was chosen because it had been previously developed, so there was no environmental impact. The site was not public property, it was a private, for-profit, campground, which was mostly paved in asphalt and or cleared of all foliage. Development only occurred in cleared dirt and asphalt areas.
• The natural environment was not harmed, despite widespread claims to the contrary. There was no harm done to redwood trees, other plants, or animals. There were no endangered species on or near the property.
• We were conscientious about protecting the environment, locating the site with the help of Save the Redwoods League and soliciting advice about how to avoid harming the redwood habitat.
• Hundreds of articles were written in the days following the wedding, yet only one reporter contacted us for comment.Most of the information contained in these articles was erroneous. No original reporting was done, no interviews were conducted, and no fact checking occurred.
• We voluntarily agreed to cover $1 million in penalties related to the Ventana’s lack of development permits and past violations. We also volunteered to contribute $1.5 million in charitable contributions serving the coastal region of the Monterey Peninsula.
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Re: Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Inter

Postby admin » Fri Jun 26, 2015 10:46 pm

Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris partied at Sean Parker’s eco-wrecking wedding
By John Upton
7 Jun 2013

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Perfect for elves. Just your average Game of Thrones-style wedding backdrop. California Coastal Commission

We told you about billionaire Sean Parker’s obnoxious wedding romp in a Big Sur redwood grove. The Napster cofounder and former Facebook president will pay $2.5 million to the California Coastal Commission to help heal damages caused when a temporary wonderland backdrop was illegally built in the forest for his nuptial vows.

Well, it turns out that two of California’s most senior elected officials attended the wedding, living the kind of high life that only comes with an assault on threatened fish species and the trashing of a forest. Those officials were Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Newsom’s attendance at the anti-eco bash was interesting, given that the former San Francisco mayor has spent his political career yapping about how much he loves the environment.

Harris’ was interesting because she is the state’s top law enforcer, and Parker’s penalties stemmed from violations of state law.

(In an email to The Atlantic, Parker denied wrongdoing, saying the party preparations improved previously asphalt-covered campground lands and characterizing the $2.5 million payment as a conservation donation. But the commission’s report [PDF] is littered with accusations of violations, including construction without permits and “development undertaken in violation of the Coastal Act.” It describes at least $1 million that Parker must pay as a “penalty settlement” for the forestland violations.)

From the SF Weekly:

Enabled by a backroom deal that Parker cut with the Ventana Inn — a high-end resort that abuts an ancient forest and a creek teeming with steelhead trout — the wedding included an artificial pond, switchback stairways, fake ruins, and extra foliage that required Parker’s construction team to dig out, bulldoze, and otherwise molest areas of highly sensitive natural forest. …

Thus far, no one has divined whether Newsom’s fingerprints are on this deal. His website says that he rotates with State Controller John Chiang as chair of the three-member State Lands Commission, which oversees leasing of millions of acres of state-owned land and permitting of water channels in California. He also serves as a member to the California Ocean Protection Council. Interestingly, he also campaigned on a rather bullish environmental platform, claiming not only that he would work to conserve California’s precious natural resources, but that he would “work to secure permanent funding solutions for the California Coastal Commission.”

But Parker donated $13,000 to Newsom’s campaign for lieutenant governor, which suggests that the two of them might be (un)comfortably close. We have yet to hear Newsom’s report back from the wedding — calls to his office weren’t returned this morning.


We certainly hope the politicians enjoyed themselves. Otherwise it would be a waste of the scandalous trampling of a natural wonderland.
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Re: Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Inter

Postby admin » Fri Jun 26, 2015 10:51 pm

Sean Parker's $2.5 Million Ecological Wedding Disaster
by RICHARD LAWSON
JUN 4, 2013

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Facebook billionaire and bad interview Sean Parker had his splendiforous, be-costumed fantasy wedding over the weekend, and for the most part the $10 million affair went off without a hitch. (Except the one hitch, har har.) Well, unless you count having to pay $2.5 million in fines to the California Coastal Commission for building his elaborate wedding set in an "ecologically sensitive" area. Oh, yes, wedding set. Including "a cottage, fake ruins, waterfalls, staircases and a huge dance floor," right near some endangered trees and fish or something. So the fuzz got involved and Parker agreed to pay $2.5 million to get them off his back, money that will go to conservation efforts. So this kinda sounds like a bit of a shakedown on this environmental group's part, but whatever. It's Sean Parker. Who had a costume designer for his wedding guests. I think we can all agree that certain people should be shaken down, and Sean Parker is one of them. Building a g.d. LARPing set in the middle of protected nature. The silliest. "I want to pretend we're in fake olden times, so let me ruin these beautiful woods." Nope. Sorry, son. You do not get to be that silly without paying $2.5 million to some made-up environmental agency. Everyone's gotta scratch everyone else's back if there's that much silliness involved. It's the way of the capitalist world. You wanna build a fancy dream castle for your wedding in the woods, you gotta pay the piper, as it were. Them's the particularly ridiculous rules. [AP]
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Re: Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Inter

Postby admin » Fri Jun 26, 2015 11:08 pm

MORAL EROSION: Sean Parker’s $10 million destruction of a park epitomizes what’s wrong with Silicon Valley
by Alexis Madrigal
June 04, 2013
The Atlantic

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Sean Parker's wedding to Alexandra Lenas is the perfect parable for Silicon Valley excess. (Getty Images/Michael Buckner)

Hey, if a billionaire couple wants to spend $10 million on their wedding, it’s neither all that surprising nor interesting, as far as I’m concerned. So, when news and statistics started to trickle out about Sean Parker’s wedding here in California—namely that it’d cost millions of dollars to create Kardashian-level over-the-topness—I was ready to chalk it up to the standard excesses of crazy rich people.

But that was before I read the California Coastal Commission’s report on the Parker wedding’s destructive, unpermitted buildout in a redwood grove in Big Sur. Parker and Neraida, the LLC he created to run his wedding, ended up paying $2.5 million in penalties for ignoring regulations. (Move fast. Break things.)

Here’s what the CCC says happened. Neraida cut a deal with the Ventana Inn, which is a private company that manages both a higher-end inn and a lower-end campground. The campground runs along Post Creek under massive redwood trees. While not wild, it is an ecologically sensitive area: Steelhead run through the creek and the trees are ancient. In 2007, the Inn closed the campground because of septic issues, though it kept all of its high-end units open. Pursuant to a 1980s deal that let the Inn expand, they were also required to maintain a public parking lot at Cadillac Flats, which offers a good jumping off point for hikers and backpackers. But they’d stopped doing so, using the lot as overflow parking for the Inn. You with me so far? Basically, what was supposed to be a facility that people of all incomes—including the general public—could visit had become a high-end resort with no camping or public parking. Still, it remained a beautiful place. It looked like this:

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Enter Parker. He cut a deal with Ventana to use the previously closed campground exclusively for months. Without a single permit or any real thought about the area’s natural components, Parker’s crew began to build walls and water effects and fake ruins on the old campground. The CCC describes the changes:

The Parker Respondents proceeded to perform unauthorized development activities within the campground. Existing roads and campsites were graded and contoured to create the appearance of ruins. Stone gateways and walls were constructed. Staircases were crafted around existing habitat and redwood trees. An artificial pond was dug and installed. A stone bridge over the pond was constructed. Several elevated platforms were created, some adjacent to Post Creek (Exhibit 9). Over 100 potted trees and plants were partially planted within the existing road beds and campsites, and lighting was installed in the redwood forest. In addition to the unpermitted development, other items to facilitate the event have also been placed on the site including tents and generators.


Nothing says, “I love the Earth!” quite like bringing bulldozers into an old-growth forest to create a fake ruined castle. And to build this fantasy world on a spot that should have been open to regular old middle-class people: That makes it even better.

But perhaps, you might say, the Parker crew didn’t get permits, but at least they knew what they were doing, installing all this stuff in an ecologically sensitive area. But no, you’d be wrong there. The CCC continues:

The Parker Respondents did not install any erosion control measures or any BMPs when they commenced development within the campground. Structures, walls and elevated platforms have been constructed immediately adjacent to Post Creek with no setbacks employed. The Parker Respondents have recently installed temporary fencing in an attempt to reduce potential impacts to Post Creek, but most of the development occurred without any such erosion-control protections in place. Increased erosion resulting from hardscaping and vegetation removal along streams impairs riparian corridors, streams, and, ultimately, shallow marine waters by increased sedimentation. Increased sediment loads in streams and coastal waters can increase turbidity, thereby reducing light transmission necessary for photosynthetic processes, reducing the growth of aquatic plants. Additionally, structures have been built up to and around existing redwoods and vegetation within the campground (Exhibit 10). Beyond immediate physical damage to individual trees, failure to provide adequate development buffers from redwood trees can negatively impact the underground lignotubers by which redwoods clonally reproduce, thus impeding propagation. The unpermitted development has thus impacted the existing redwood forest habitat and has likely caused sedimentation of Post Creek.


Here’s what the site looked like during construction (note the stump in the pictures above and below). I think they call this disruption:

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Here’s a poor old redwood that had to serve as an endpoint for a fake ruin because the most glorious forest in North America was not pretty enough for Sean Parker’s wedding:

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I’m not a purist: Landscapes can get more beautiful with human intervention sometimes. Most landscapes we know have already been immeasurably altered by human behavior over the centuries. What’s rough about this particular situation is how wantonly Parker steamrolled structures, human and not human, legal and aesthetic.

To his credit, Parker paid up for the damage and said in a statement that he and his wife “always dreamed of getting married in Big Sur, one of the most magical places on Earth.” And weddings are great and I’m sure it was a good party.

But, of course, that’s also part of the new Silicon Valley parable: dream big, privatize the previously public, pay no attention to the rules, build recklessly, enjoy shamelessly, invoke magic, and then pay everybody off.

The old-guard Midwestern transplants like Bob Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Bill Davidow—not to mention a lot of newbie social entrepreneurs—would be ashamed of this kind of grandstanding, and rightly so.

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Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology channel. He’s the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology.
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Re: Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Inter

Postby admin » Fri Jun 26, 2015 11:10 pm

Facebook's Sean Parker fined $2.5m for tasteless eco-trashing wedding
Fantasy-themed gala threatened wildlife, old-growth forest
by Neil McAllister
4 Jun 2013

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"Move fast and break things" is the unofficial motto of Facebook engineers, and for original Facebook president Sean Parker that philosophy apparently even applies to centuries-old redwood forests – at least where planning his wedding is concerned.

The California Coastal Commission has ordered Parker and property owners WTCC Ventana Investors to pay $2.5m in fines and restoration costs to undo the environmental damage caused by the Napster cofounder's June 1, 2013 nuptials.

A report released by the Commission on Monday reveals how Neraida LLC, a limited-liability corporation formed by Parker specifically to manage his $9m wedding to singer-songwriter Alexandra Lenas, conducted an extensive development project at a private site in the woods at Big Sur that caused soil erosion and endangered local wildlife, all without obtaining local, state, or federal government permits.

Seemingly not content with the natural wonders of the location, Parker reportedly had Neraida build numerous structures for the event, including:

... a gateway and arch, an artificial pond, a stone bridge, multiple event platforms with elevated floors, rock walls, artificially created ruins of cottages and castle walls, multiple locations with rock stairways, a dance floor, installation of numerous potted trees, potted plants and flowers, event tents, port-a-potties, generators, lighting, and wedding facilities


Some of these activities involved building stone staircases around old-growth redwood trees and planting non-native plants along the existing road beds and campsites to create a fantasy feel – Parker reportedly even hired Lord of the Rings costume designer Ngila Dickson to outfit his guests.

According to the Coastal Commission, all of this construction led to "continuing resource damage," including soil erosion into nearby Post Creek, a coastal stream that is a habitat and spawning ground for steelhead trout, a threatened species.

In addition, the construction for Parker's wedding caused the closure of public camping and parking facilities at Cadillac Flats for several months in violation of California's Coastal Act, which mandates that portions of the area be reserved for low-cost recreational use by the public.

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Photo of construction at Sean Parker's Big Sur wedding site
Never mind the ancient redwood trees, this looks like a lovely spot for some fake castle 'ruins'


The report explains how the Coastal Commission ordered Neraida to halt work on May 8, which it did ... for about a week. Construction then resumed, despite the Commission's warnings that the project risked violating the Coastal Act's permit requirements.

The Commission's June 3 judgment orders Neraida to cease and desist all construction activities on the site – a bit late, since the wedding took place two days earlier.

It also orders Parker, Neraida, and WTCC Ventana Investors to pay a penalty of $1m to the California Coastal Conservancy Fund, in addition to providing a minimum of $1.5m for one or more conservation or public access projects, subject to the approval of the executive director of the Coastal Commission.

"If the projects so approved to do not exhaust the $1,500,000 reserved and earmarked, additional projects shall be proposed, and the same process shall be followed, until all the funds are expended," the resolution states.

In a joint statement released on Monday, Coastal Commission executive director Charles Lester said Parker has been working with the Commission to resolve the matter.

"Mr. Parker has been extremely cooperative and actively involved in working with Coastal Commission staff to reach this resolution which both addresses our Coastal Act concerns and will result in greater coastal access and conservation in the Big Sur and Monterey Peninsula areas," Lester said.

The statement further added that Parker will either help produce a public education video with the Commission or create a mobile app designed to raise awareness of public natural recreation areas.

"We always dreamed of getting married in Big Sur, one of the most magical places on earth. In continuing my foundation's mission, we are excited to support these important conservation-related projects for and with the local community," Parker's statement said. ®
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Re: Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Inter

Postby admin » Fri Jun 26, 2015 11:14 pm

Sean Parker Responds to Redwoods Wedding Criticism, and His Defense Is Actually Pretty Convincing
Read this letter. It may not change your mind about Sean Parker, but it adds some important details about the nature of the construction at the site.
by ALEXIS C. MADRIGAL
JUN 6, 2013

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Earlier this week, I wrote about a report that the California Coastal Commission released about its interactions with Sean Parker over his wedding in a Redwood grove in Big Sur. From the language and photographs in the report, I came to some pretty harsh conclusions about the whole affair.

After the post was published, Parker wrote to me with a spirited defense of the wedding. He provided some details, which have reduced the boiling of my blood to a simmer. His whole email is reprinted below, but these are the key new facts, as I see them. One, Parker "consulted informally" with the Save the Redwoods League early in the process, so he wasn't building blindly. Two, according to Parker, the photograph of the gorgeous grove that was included in the CCC report as a "before" photograph was actually taken after Parker's crew had cleaned it up and gotten rid of a lot of the asphalt that had been laid down at the site. Three, his payment of $2.5 million was voluntary and "consistent with the kind of conservation work I'm already doing."

I attempted to reach the CCC to confirm these details, but have not heard back. You can read the staff report they issued here [pdf].

I can't say I agree that there is nothing extravagant about doing $4.5 million in site preparation, but I can say that at least it wasn't quite the know-nothing bigfooting that it appeared to be. Like I said in my original post, I don't really care that rich people spend insane amounts of money on their weddings; I just don't want everyone and everything else to get trampled along the way.

In retrospect, the Nixon administration's extraordinary campaign to undermine the credibility of the press succeeded to a remarkable extent, despite all the post-Watergate posturing in our profession. It succeeded in large part because of our own obvious shortcomings. The hard and simple fact is that our reporting has not been good enough. It was not good enough in the Nixon years, it got worse in the Reagan years, and it is no better now. We are arrogant. We have failed to open up our own institutions in the media to the same kind of scrutiny that we demand of other powerful institutions in the society. We are no more forthcoming or gracious in acknowledging error or misjudgment than the congressional miscreants and bureaucratic felons we spend so much time scrutinizing.

The greatest felony in the news business today (as Woodward recently observed) is to be behind, or to miss, a major story; or more precisely, to seem behind, or to seem in danger of missing, a major story. So speed and quantity substitute for thoroughness and quality, for accuracy and context. The pressure to compete, the fear that somebody else will make the splash first, creates a frenzied environment in which a blizzard of information is presented and serious questions may not be raised; and even in those fortunate instances in which such questions are raised (as happened after some of the egregious stories about the Clinton family), no one has done the weeks and months of work to sort it all out and to answer them properly.

Reporting is not stenography. It is the best obtainable version of the truth. The really significant trends in journalism have not been toward a commitment to the best and the most complex obtainable version of the truth, not toward building a new journalism based on serious, thoughtful reporting. Those are certainly not the priorities that jump out at the reader or the viewer from Page One or "Page Six" of most of our newspapers; and not what a viewer gets when he turns on the 11 o'clock local news or, too often, even network news productions.

"All right, was it really the best sex you ever had?" Those were the words of Diane Sawyer, in an interview of Marla Maples on "Prime Time Live," a broadcast of ABC News (where "more Americans get their news from ... than any other source"). Those words marked a new low (out of which Sawyer herself has been busily climbing). For more than fifteen years we have been moving away from real journalism toward the creation of a sleazoid info-tainment culture in which the lines between Oprah and Phil and Geraldo and Diane and even Ted, between the New York Post and Newsday, are too often indistinguishable. In this new culture of journalistic titillation, we teach our readers and our viewers that the trivial is significant, that the lurid and the loopy are more important than real news. We do not serve our readers and viewers, we pander to them. And we condescend to them, giving them what we think they want and what we calculate will sell and boost ratings and readership. Many of them, sadly, seem to justify our condescension, and to kindle at the trash. Still, it is the role of journalists to challenge people, not merely to amuse them.

We are in the process of creating, in sum, what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot subculture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time in our history the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal. Last month in New York we witnessed a primary election in which "Donahue," "Imus in the Morning," and the disgraceful coverage of the New York Daily News and the New York Post eclipsed The New York Times, The Washington Post, the network news divisions, and the serious and experienced political reporters on the beat. Even The New York Times has been reduced to naming the rape victim in the Willie Smith case; to putting Kitty Kelley on the front page as a news story; to parlaying polls as if they were policies.

I do not mean to attack popular culture. Good journalism is popular culture, but popular culture that stretches and informs its consumers rather than that which appeals to the ever descending lowest common denominator. If, by popular culture, we mean expressions of thought or feeling that require no work of those who consume them, then decent popular journalism is finished. What is happening today, unfortunately, is that the lowest form of popular culture—lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people's lives—has overrun real journalism.

Today ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage: by Donahue-Geraldo-Oprah freak shows (cross-dressing in the marketplace; skinheads at your corner luncheonette; pop psychologists rhapsodizing over the airways about the minds of serial killers and sex offenders); by the Maury Povich news; by "Hard Copy"; by Howard Stern; by local newscasts that do special segments devoted to hyping hype. Last month, in supposedly sophisticated New York, the country's biggest media market, there ran a craven five-part series on the 11 o'clock news called "Where Do They Get Those People ...?," a special report on where Geraldo and Oprah and Donahue get their freaks (the promo for the series featured Donahue interviewing a diapered man with a pacifier in his mouth).

The point is not only that this is trash journalism. That much is obvious. It is also essential to note that this was on an NBC-owned and -operated station. And who distributes Geraldo? The Tribune Company of Chicago. Who owns the stations on which these cross-dressers and transsexuals and skinheads and lawyers for serial killers get to strut their stuff? The networks, the Washington Post Company, dozens of major newspapers that also own television stations, Times-Mirror and the New York Times Company, among others. And last month Ivana Trump, perhaps the single greatest creation of the idiot culture, a tabloid artifact if ever there was one, appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair. On the cover, that is, of Conde Nast's flagship magazine, the same Conde Nast/Newhouse/Random House whose executives will yield to nobody in their solemnity about their profession, who will tell you long into the night how seriously in touch with American culture they are, how serious they are about the truth.

Look, too, at what is on The New York Times best-seller list these days. Double Cross: The Explosive Inside Story of the Mobster Who Controlled America by Sam and Chuck Giancana, Warner Books, $22.95. (Don't forget that $22.95.) This book is a fantasy pretty much from cover to cover. It is riddled with inventions and lies, with conspiracies that never happened, with misinformation and disinformation, all designed to line somebody's pockets and satisfy the twisted egos of some fame-hungry relatives of a mobster. But this book has been published by Warner Books, part of Time Warner, a conglomerate I've been associated with for a long time. (All the President's Men is a Warner Bros. movie, the paperback of All the President's Men was also published by Warner Books, and I've just finished two years as a correspondent and contributor at Time.) Surely the publisher of Time has no business publishing a book, that its executives and its editors know is a historical hoax, with no redeeming value except financial.

By now the defenders of the institutions that I am attacking will have cried the First Amendment. But this is not about the First Amendment, or about free expression. In a free country, we are free for trash, too. But the fact that trash will always find an outlet does not mean that we should always furnish it with an outlet. And the great information conglomerates of this country are now in the trash business. We all know pornography when we see it, and of course it has a right to exist. But we do not all have to be porn publishers; and there is hardly a major media company in America that has not dipped its toe into the social and political equivalent of the porn business in the last fifteen years.

Many, indeed, are now waist-deep in the big muddy. Take Donahue. Eighteen years ago Woodward and I went to Ohio on our book tour because we were told that there was a guy doing a syndicated talk show there who was the most substantive interview in the business. And he was. Donahue had read our book. He had charts, he knew the evidence, he conducted a serious discussion about the implications of Watergate for the country and for the media. Last month, however, Donahue put Bill Clinton on his show—and for half an hour engaged in a mud wrestling contest that was even too much for the studio audience. Donahue was among those interviewed for that WNBC special report about "Where Do They Get Those People ...?," and on that report he uttered a damning extenuation to the effect that as Oprah and the others get farther out there, he too has to do it.

Yes, we have always had a sensational, popular, yellow tabloid press; and we have always had gossip columns, even powerful ones like Hedda Hopper's and Walter Winchell's. But never before have we had anything like today's situation in which supposedly serious people—I mean the so-called intellectual and social elites of this country—live and die by (and actually believe!) these columns and these shows and millions more rely upon them for their primary source of information. Liz Smith, Newsday's gossip columnist and the best of a bad lot, has admitted blithely on more than a few occasions that she doesn't try very hard to check the accuracy of many of her items, or even give the subjects of her column the opportunity to comment on what is being said about them.

For the eight years of the Reagan presidency, the press failed to comprehend that Reagan was a real leader—however asleep at the switch he might have seemed, however shallow his intellect. No leader since FDR so changed the American landscape or saw his vision of the country and the world so thoroughly implanted. But in the Reagan years we in the press rarely went outside Washington to look at the relationship between policy and legislation and judicial appointments to see how the administration's policies were affecting the people—the children and the adults and the institutions of America: in education, in the workplace, in the courts, in the black community, in the family paycheck. In our ridicule of Reagan's rhetoric about the "evil empire," we failed to make the connection between Reagan's policies and the willingness of Gorbachev to loosen the vise of communism. Now the record is slowly becoming known. We have, in fact, missed most of the great stories of our generation, from Iran-contra to the savings and loan debacle.

The failures of the press have contributed immensely to the emergence of a talk-show nation, in which public discourse is reduced to ranting and raving and posturing. We now have a mainstream press whose news agenda is increasingly influenced by this netherworld. On the day that Nelson Mandela returned to Soweto and the allies of World War II agreed to the unification of Germany, the front pages of many "responsible" newspapers were devoted to the divorce of Donald and Ivana Trump.

-- The Idiot Culture, by Carl Bernstein


Here's a lightly edited version of the email that Parker sent me presenting his side of the story.

Alexis,

I read your article with a great deal of sadness and dismay.

First and foremost is that nobody goes out of their way to get married in a redwood forest unless they really love redwood forests. Getting married beneath an old growth redwood tree has been a dream shared by me and my wife for a long time. We spent two years hiking redwood groves, both public and private, in order to locate the perfect spot for our wedding. We needed to find private land that had been previously developed ("disturbed land" in CCC vernacular) so that there would be minimal environmental impact. When we found the Ventana campground site it was not exactly in pristine shape -- the natural ground cover was gone and it had been paved over with black asphalt! The pictures in the CCC report probably show what the site looked like after I removed (or covered) all the black asphalt (which I found appalling) using either bulldozers or just by spreading dirt and forest brush around the area. It is also possible that this area had been cleared as a camping "pad" for an RV or mobile home. Regardless, an undisturbed forest would not be dirt or asphalt, it would be covered in vegetation of some sort.

Second, my foundation has only two primary missions, one is cancer research (specifically cancer immunotherapy), and the other is conservation. I have begun a program of "conservation buying" - that is where I locate private land that needs to be protected, buy it with my own funds, and then donate it to someone like state parks or non-profits to maintain it for the public benefit. I spend quite a bit of my foundation's money on conservation related projects. To that end, I had previously been a major donor to the Save the Redwoods League.

I needed help finding a forest to host the event. Finding a forest with some old growth redwood trees that can accommodate 300 people is no easy task. I enlisted the help of Save the Redwoods to identify the site, and they suggested the Ventana campground precisely because it was private property and not public land, and it was owned and operated by a hospitality business (a hotel) and had previously been used for events. You mention that I "privatized the previously public." There is no sense is which this was public land. The only issue with the campground was that it had been closed to campers for several years due to fire and other issues. The Ventana has an active contractual obligation with the CCC to keep the campground open on a for-profit basis. Given that I was just renting the (already closed) campground for a short time, I could not have possibly known about this issue, and my wedding did not prolong the closure of the campground in any way.

The Save the Redwoods League actually consulted informally on the project from Day 1, sending their Director of Science down to the site to educate our naturalist regarding a plan for work that would be minimally environmentally disruptive to the local redwood and riparian habitats. This is something I chose to do entirely of my own volition and without any pressure from government agencies. (This took place winter of last year.) At this point we had no issues with the CCC or any other agency, I just wanted everything to be as authentic as possible and I didn't want to disrupt the natural habitat. I only knew to do this because I had an existing understanding of forest restoration via my conservation work and I also have an appreciation for what a natural redwood forest should look like because of my time spent hiking around redwood forests. We want to crazy lengths to ensure that nothing in the forest was harmed during the construction process. We used fabric liners to protect the ground from our landscaping work. We avoided planting directly in the soil, instead we brought in potted plants. Contrary to media reports, no redwood trees were harmed by the wedding or construction. (At least none that I'm aware of.)

While we made some mistakes, by and large the biologists who were sent out to the site (by the CCC and others) were happy with the measures we'd taken. Of course it's impossible to get everything exactly right at a production of this scale. Keep in mind when we found it, the campground was full of black asphalt roads, picnic tables, and all kinds of other man-made structures.

Everything we built was designed to be dismantled and removed after the wedding. I inquired about the need for permits early in the process and was informed that, due to the temporary nature of the construction, no such permit would be required. The CCC and Monterey County both offer some sort of exemptions for temporary events. Almost all the structures you see were designed to be temporary--they were actually built off-site and then reassembled on the topsoil of the campground. There is no mortar inside them, so they will just come apart like legos and get carried off. My original agreement with Ventana provided for me to restore the property to the condition in which I had found it, which was anything but perfect. The campground was missing all the normal sorrel leaf ground cover and other foliage. All the the greenery that you see in my photographs had to be brought in by me since the campground had been totally stripped of any vegetation when I found it. My goal was to leave the property in much better condition than when I found it.

More importantly, because I was just renting the site from a hotel, my representatives were told by relevant agencies, such as the CCC and Monterey County planning commission, that it was the responsibility of the property owner, not the hotel guest, to obtain any necessary permits.

How can a hotel guest paying a hotel to host their wedding be in a position to legally apply for permits covering a property that they do not own? There was neither an obligation, contractual or otherwise, nor any legal way for me to apply for permits.

You should also be aware that the $2.5 million was not, strictly speaking, a "fine" for any particular violation. We conceded to pay a $1 million into the CCC's conservation fund, and then work together to deploy a minimum of an additional $1.5 million in charitable contributions to help the Monterey/Big Sur area. This is all work that is consistent with the kind of conservation work I'm already doing. We have some great ideas about how to provide affordable (read: free) camping by bussing under-privileged kids and other groups into the Big Sur area for a free camping experience that they would get to have otherwise. Keep in mind, this is a minimum contribution, I am open to giving much more as the conservation projects develop.

The vision behind this wedding was to integrate with nature as much as possible, to bring out the natural beauty of the site while incorporating the kinds of things that one would need at a wedding. We did as much landscaping as possible using native species (ferns, sorrel ground cover, forget-me-not flowers), and everything was placed in potted plants with mulch around them so as not to plant or introduce foreign species into the forest. We used no invasive species.

There were no "ruined castles" built in the forest. The only stonework were walkways for the guests and walls that served as barriers between the different areas. I don't know where all this talk of castles and towers and things came from. The stonework is actually hollow (filled with bird wire) so that it can be removed quickly.

We had a very specific aesthetic vision for this event that was subtle, tasteful, and carefully orchestrated. Everything we did was an homage to nature, to the natural redwood environment which I call "God's cathedral." We wanted the forest to speak for itself, but we had to build the basic minimum features to make the campground safe and viable for a wedding.

Finally, you mention that what we did was "extravagant" yet none of the usual tasteless crap that rich people do at their weddings was present here -- no ice sculptures, no caviar, no pop stars hired to sing their hits songs, etc. This is why your article and so many other articles have been so deeply offensive. Maybe I will be allowed to release some photos of the event at some point so you can see first hand what we created rather than just speculating based on what else has been published in the press. All of the numbers that have been released were total fabrications (this $9 million number of instance) and are WAY off base. I will say, against my better instinct to tell you, that we spent roughly $4.5 million on prepping the site and big part of that was restoring the forest floor (I should say, covering the forest floor with plants) since it had been paved over in black asphalt or cleared by bulldozers before we ever laid eyes on the campground.

best,

sp
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Re: Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Inter

Postby admin » Fri Jun 26, 2015 11:16 pm

Agency settles dispute over Sean Parker wedding
Coastal Commission OKs $2.5-million settlement with the tech billionaire over ceremony amid Big Sur's redwoods. Panel's chief thanks Parker for exposing the closure of a campground to the public.
By Maria L. La Ganga
June 18, 2013|
Los Angeles Times

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Sean Parker and Alexandra Lenas were married June 1 in a Big Sur ceremony that raised the ire of the California Coastal Commission.(Mark Seliger )

MENLO PARK, Calif. — It was bad enough that his multimillion-dollar wedding became a symbol of Silicon Valley excess. But then billionaire tech guru Sean Parker was blasted in the headlines as an environmental menace over party preparations that had allegedly damaged Big Sur's storied redwoods.

The Napster co-founder and former Facebook president wed singer-songwriter Alexandra Lenas on June 1 in a campground owned by the posh Ventana Inn & Spa. To set the scene for their fantasy, the couple trucked in plants and flowers, dug an artificial pond and erected a stone bridge and elevated dance floor amid the old-growth forest.

The one thing they did not do was apply for a permit.

The California Coastal Commission on Friday agreed to a $2.5-million settlement with Parker and Ventana, a payment that will go toward enhancing access to Big Sur's coastline, trails and forests. After the vote, Chairwoman Mary Shallenberger had harsh words — but not for the 33-year-old and his bride. In fact, Shallenberger said she was grateful to Parker for exposing a public wrong.

It seems that to get commission approval for an expansion more than 30 years ago, Ventana had agreed to keep the nearby low-cost campground open to all visitors. But the inn, where room rates can run as high as $4,000 a night, closed it in 2007 in violation of state law.

"I thank Mr. Parker for having his wedding there, so we discovered all the violations and the six years where the public has not had access," Shallenberger said.

In their first joint interview on the controversy that has generated online threats, Parker and Lenas said Tuesday that their wedding was magical and environmentally sensitive.

"It's really sad how little old-growth is left," Lenas said.

According to Parker, the couple enlisted the Save the Redwoods League for help in finding a suitable locale to tie the knot. (He previously had donated $250,000 to the group.) The league suggested the Ventana campground, Parker said, because it was partially paved and out of service.

"Save the Redwoods League sent their chief scientist down to look at it and provide us with a plan to do this in an eco-sensitive way," Parker said. "So much of the press accused us of eco-trashing.… We couldn't have been more conscientious about our approach. We went out of our way to do this the right way."

Parker and Lenas leased the campground in November and began building an elaborate set for the wedding in March — at a cost of about $4.5 million.

Then, less than three weeks before the big event, the Coastal Commission called Ventana, Parker said. And Ventana called him.

"They said we needed to stop work and couldn't go on with the wedding," he said, sitting with Lenas in a Menlo Park location that they requested remain undisclosed. (The couple postponed their Bora Bora honeymoon to deal with the hubbub.) "I had never heard of the Coastal Commission at that point. I hadn't heard of the Coastal Act of 1976. I wasn't around in 1976."

So Parker hired attorney Rick Zbur, chairman of the California League of Conservation Voters, and worked toward the settlement with the commission. Lenas called the days leading up to the wedding "devastating."

"This was a very agonizing 20-day period," Parker said. "For most of it, we thought the wedding wouldn't happen at all.…The Coastal Commission quickly discovered the hotel was not in compliance and that became the focal point." After that, the couple got clearance from the panel to proceed with their ceremony.

Parker said that he and Lenas — who is in the process of changing her last name — felt as if they were caught in the middle. They had worked with the hotel for months, he said, but the Ventana Inn staff never said any permits were needed. And their contract included a provision that Parker indemnify the hotel for any costs related to the wedding.

"If I hadn't been a high-profile person with resources," he said, "I wouldn't be held up for … something I didn't do."

Under the terms of the settlement, Parker will pay $1 million to address the liabilities related to the unpermitted construction.

Lisa Haage, the commission's chief of enforcement, told the panel Friday that "the environmental damage from the wedding-related construction work was less serious than we had originally feared, in part due to the fact that the large majority of the development was performed on a campground and existing road, not in a virgin forest."

In addition, Parker will pay "a minimum of $1.5 million" to fund online conservation or public access efforts as a way to mitigate Ventana's six-year campground closure. One possibility, McLendon said, is a statewide mobile device app akin to the one focused on Malibu's beaches.

And Ventana Inn has agreed to reopen the campground no later than October 2014.
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Re: Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Inter

Postby admin » Fri Jun 26, 2015 11:19 pm

Sean Parker Wedding Brings Ventana Inn’s Campground Violations to Light
by Kera Abraham
June 13, 2013

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High-Security Forest: A private guard mans the entrance to Ventana Inn’s closed campground, where Sean Parker’s wedding occurred the prior weekend.
Posted: Thursday,


A few days after Facebook billionaire Sean Parker’s June 1 wedding to Alexandra Lenas, beeping machinery drowns out birdsong at the forested campground he rented at Big Sur’s Ventana Inn & Spa. U-Hauls and portable toilets sit on the soil among pieces of plywood, crushed gravel and stone masonry.

It’s hard to see just what’s going on in there; the road into the campground is blocked by a gate and private security.

But in the national uproar over Parker’s wedding – which reportedly involved the construction of a Game of Thrones-esque fantasy land in the protected coastal redwoods, in violation of the California Coastal Act – not much press has been given to one of the state’s most significant findings: This space is supposed to be open to the public.

The 100-site campground, meant to facilitate lower-cost public access to the high-demand redwoods, was a condition of Ventana’s 1982 permit to expand, according to the Coastal Commission’s June 14 staff report.

Then shit happened, literally. In fall 2007, the Monterey County Health Department ordered the campground closed and put an occupancy cap on the inn after discovering human waste leaking next to a bathhouse and running into Post Creek.

But Ventana, according to the Coastal Commission, never got the permit amendment it needed to close the campground to the public. Nor did it get permits for the construction of Parker’s medieval wedding set six years later.

“Mr. Parker, in essence, leased an ongoing Coastal Act violation when he leased the campground,” commission spokeswoman Sarah Christie says.

Ventana managers did not return the Weekly’s multiple calls. But Roger VanHorn, the county’s senior environmental health specialist, says neither the health department nor the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, which had cooperated in the sewage inspection, realized the inn had to notify the Coastal Commission to close the campground back in 2007.

He says Ventana has invested millions in a new wastewater treatment plant, able to treat up to 30,000 gallons per day. That plant is now online, he says, and the county is evaluating the last of the inn’s treated-wastewater dispersal fields.

“The system they put in is ultra-modern,” he says. “Once it comes online, they’re going to have a better facility there than they ever had before.”

Yet the campground was made available for a private event in the meantime. The contract between Ventana’s parent company and Neraida LLC, the corporation Parker created to handle the wedding, gives Parker’s crew exclusive use of the campground from March to July.

Under a settlement dated June 3, Parker agrees to pay $2.5 million toward conservation and coastal-access projects. Christie says $1 million of that is a penalty for the unpermitted wedding construction; Parker paid the other $1.5 million on the inn’s behalf for Ventana’s unpermitted closure of the public campground.

In a separate settlement, the inn agrees to restore public parking, improve public trails, install trailhead signs, create a public-access guide to its amenities, upgrade the campground and reopen it to the public, “if at all possible,” by Oct. 15.

VanHorn says the inn can’t meet that target date until the county green-lights the wastewater dispersal fields, which won’t likely happen until next spring.

The Coastal Commission will vote on the two settlements Friday, June 14. The Parker team is not allowed to dismantle the wedding set until commission staff signs off on a removal plan.

The commission took some public heat for failing to halt the wedding after the violations came to light. But Christie notes the commission immediately issued a cease-and-desist order, only allowing the wedding to proceed because the damage had been done by the time the inspectors arrived.

She says the commission couldn’t do much to stop it, anyway. “The coast is not as protected as people assume it is because we are so understaffed,” she says, noting the commission’s backlog of 1,876 violations. “The staff is completely dedicated, but the system is dysfunctional.”

For example, 21 state agencies are empowered to issue fines directly, but the Coastal Commission is not one of them. Instead, the commission can take violators to court and ask a judge to impose a fine – something Christie says has only happened four times in the last 10 years. “Who wouldn’t go to Vegas with those odds?” she asks.

A bill that recently passed the Assembly, San Diego Democrat Toni Atkins’ AB 976, would grant the commission that administrative-penalty authority. It now heads to the Senate.

Another bill, Santa Cruz Dem Mark Stone’s AB 203, would have required coastal development permit applicants to clean up prior violations first – a step that could have prevented Parker’s wedding. It passed out of the Appropriations Committee, but it was moved to the inactive file because the bill , opposed by big business and big ag, lacked the votes to pass on the Assembly floor.
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Re: Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Inter

Postby admin » Fri Jun 26, 2015 11:21 pm

Sean Parker says he had to pay wedding fines
by USA Today
June 21, 2013
Sean Parker

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(Photo: Mark Seliger)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Big Sur resort where Sean Parker held his posh, Lord of the Rings-inspired wedding threatened to cancel it if he didn't agree to pay for the unpermitted wedding construction and the inn's past land use violations, Parker told The Associated Press on Friday.

The co-founder of Napster and former Facebook president said that after two years of wedding planning, the Ventana Inn & Spa preferred to cancel 20 days before the event rather than work out an agreement with the California Coastal Commission.

"As soon as Ventana found out there was an issue they threatened to cancel the wedding unless I entered into a broad indemnification agreement," Parker said in an email. "We had nowhere to go at that point, no backup plan, and there was no place in the Big Sur area that could accommodate 360 guests."

Multiple calls to Ventana were not returned. A spokeswoman for Oaktree Capital Management, which owns the Ventana, said the firm would not comment.

The resort is located within the coastal zone, an area regulated by the commission, an independent state agency that oversees beachside development. Any significant construction within the zone has to be permitted.

Parker, 33, who was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the movie "The Social Network," married singer-songwriter Alexandra Lenas in a ceremony with gowns and sets made by a designer for the "Lord of the Rings" films.

But after a neighbor complained about the construction, a commission investigation found that Parker had been allowed to build fake ruins, a cottage, a large dance floor and other structures near iconic redwoods and a stream with threatened fish, all without the proper permits.

Also, the Ventana had allowed Parker to build the wedding site in a campground that had been closed to the public in violation of the inn's permits, according to the coastal commission's report.

Parker agreed to pay $2.5 million in a settlement with the commission that includes Ventana's past violations and money future conservation programs overseen by the commission.

After agreeing to pay for Ventana's $1 million fines, negotiations between Parker's attorney and the commission also led to him contributing $1.5 million for the purchase of public easements and hiking trails in the Big Sur area and as grants for nonprofits doing conservation projects.

Parker came up with that amount on a "back of the napkin" estimate of how much it would cost to purchase easements in the Big Sur area.

Also, as part of the settlement, Parker offered to produce and distribute a public education video or create a mobile app aimed at helping to identify areas where the public can access the coast.

The commission could have shut down the wedding regardless of what Ventana and Parker agreed to, but chose not to.

"After inspecting the site, commission staff determined that any potential resource impacts associated with the development had already occurred, and as long as the structures were removed properly and in a timely fashion, those impacts would not be exacerbated by the actual event. So rather than shutting down the wedding, we focused on removal and mitigation," Sarah Christie, a commission spokeswoman, said in an email.

Parker said it was unreasonable for Ventana to assume that he, as the renter of the site, should have known that coastal commission permits were needed for him to stage the event.

"Ultimately, the Ventana was unwilling to accept any financial responsibility and preferred to cancel our wedding rather than work things out with the commission," Parker said. "We had no choice but to step in and pay for all of their violations, both the unpermitted construction and also their past liability related to the campground closure."

The billionaire said he is passionate about the forest, and only agreed to the wedding site after consulting with the Save the Redwoods League.

"The idea that I was a menace to the environment, or that I trashed trees is the kind of allegation that frustrates me," Parker said. "It is really emotionally difficult and frustrates my ability to do conservation work in the future."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Re: Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Inter

Postby admin » Fri Jun 26, 2015 11:23 pm

CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION REACHES FINAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT IN PARKER WEDDING AND CAMPGROUND CLOSURE
STATE OF CALIFORNIA—NATURAL RESOURCES AGENCY EDMUND G. BROWN, JR., GOVERNOR
CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION
45 FREMONT STREET, SUITE 2000
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94105- 2219
VOICE (415) 904- 5200
FAX ( 415) 904- 5400
TDD (415) 597-5885

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


TO ALL MEDIA
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Sarah Christie 916-747-1164

Website: http://www.coastal.ca.gov

CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION REACHES FINAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT IN PARKER WEDDING AND CAMPGROUND CLOSURE

LONG BEACH, Calif. (June 14, 2013)—The California Coastal Commission unanimously approved a final settlement agreement to resolve a series of Coastal Act violations at the Ventana Campground in Big Sur, stemming in part from the June 1 wedding of Sean Parker and Alexandra Lenas. The settlement includes payments of $2.5 million, which will be used by the Sate Coastal Conservancy and local non‐profit or public organizations to enhance public access in the Big Sur area, such as creating new hiking trails, easement purchases, and funding programs to make it possible for inner city youth and other underserved communities to reach and explore the coast. The Coastal Commission itself will not receive any of the settlement monies.

“Any time we can settle a violation and avoid litigation, we consider that a good outcome,” said California Coastal Commission Chairperson Mary Shallenberger. “Unlike other state regulatory agencies, the Commission doesn’t have the legal authority to fine violators so we must rely on settlement agreements like this to restore damaged resources and fund mitigation efforts.”

Mr. Parker leased the campground from the Ventana Inn and Spa in November 2012, and began building and assembling numerous structures on the site in March, including rock walls, stairways, a stone bridge, a faux cottage and pond, a stone archway and a dance floor. Any new development in the Coastal Zone requires a coastal development permit, consistent with Coastal Act policies that protect coastal resources and public access. By the time the Commission staff was notified, most of the construction was complete. Coastal Commission staff determined that the structures should be removed as soon as possible, but that no further damage to the site was likely to occur from allowing the wedding to proceed.

“Our issue was with the development, not the event,” said Lisa Haage, the Commission’s Chief of Enforcement. “If we had thought the wedding itself was going to cause additional harm to the forest, we would have stopped it. But we determined that allowing guests to attend a wedding at a public campground was not going to harm coastal resources. Instead, we focused on how best to restore the site, and brought this to the Commission as quickly as possible. We think this is a good outcome because it protects the redwoods, restores the site and provides public access benefits that the public will enjoy for generations.”

However, the Commission staff’s investigation revealed an equally troubling, if less obvious, Coastal Act violation: the fact that the campground had been illegally closed for the last six years. As mitigation for a 1982 Coastal permit to expand the luxury hotel, the Inn had agreed to continue to operate the campground in order to provide affordable overnight accommodations, since this is a major concern in the Big Sur area. In spite of this requirement, the Ventana Inn closed the campground in 2007 due to water quality concerns, without notifying or obtaining permission from the Commission, offering a plan to re‐open, or providing an alternative to replace the campground.

“Closing the campground for six years had a significant impact on public access and recreation,” said Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester. “Big Sur is an extremely popular destination for visitors, and competition for campsites is always high. The campground was an important part of the original permit and was essential for the Commission to be able to approve the luxury hotel expansion under the Coastal Act. Reopening the campground as soon as possible, and providing other public benefits like new trails, public access information and signs can at least partially mitigate for the campground closure.”

The settlement agreement ensures that all of the structures will be removed as quickly as possible, in a manner that avoids any damage to the forest habitat, and any necessary restoration of the area. The water quality issues at the Ventana Campground will be corrected and the campground re‐opened for public use no later than October 2014. The agreements also require campground improvements, new public trails, public access signs and information, removal of invasive plants, as well as funding for conservation and public access projects in the Big Sur area. In addition, it provides for the development of an online video and/or mobile app designed to educate users about access rights and conservation issues.

“This issue has generated more media attention for the Coastal Commission than anything I can remember in my 40 years of working with the program,” said Mary Shallenberger. “And the takeaway message is loud and clear. Nobody should be above the law when it comes to protecting the coast and public access. The public expects us to do more, not less, to carry out the Coastal Act.”
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