Update: Parker has defended himself in a letter to Madrigal, with some convincing arguments. You can read that here, and we’ve included some excerpts from it below.
Nothing says love and romance like destroying the forest. That’s the message from last weekend’s wedding of Napster cofounder and serial investor Sean Parker, whose $10 million nuptials almost makes you pine for the type of overly earnest "hobo" wedding that had a short-lived moment (and hearty Internet hate-session) two years ago.
Unlike other San Francisco or Silicon Valley tech types for whom the environment is their number one cause (outside of stopping SOPA or making billions of dollars), Parker and his merry band of revelers seemed to have little regard for rare ecosystems—in this case, the California redwood forest—where their raging brought them. As Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic reports, Parker rented out a section of forestland in Big Sur from The Ventana Inn, a luxury resort, and proceeded to develop it with fake ruins and other amenities—without first getting permission from the government agencies that manage the land (because government is bad and extraneous and stuff?).
Quoting from a report by the California Coastal Commission, the Atlantic provides a taste of some of the work they did to "improve" the forest:
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. […] Over 100 potted trees and plants were partially planted within the existing road beds and campsites, and lighting was installed in the redwood forest. (emphasis added)
What’s more, the group neglected to implement any basic measures to protect the surrounding areas, like erosion controls. The report points out that increased erosion is likely to add sediments to the local streams, which blocks light from aquatic plants that need it for photosynthesis. Building structures up against redwoods makes it harder for them to reproduce.
No biggie though, for Parker at least. After ignoring any sort of rules he gladly complied with paying the $2.5 million in fees—pocket change for someone with an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.
Update: Parker’s letter to Madrigal, which you can read in full here, makes many compelling points of defense, among them:
- Parker has been a major donor to the Save the Redwoods League, and worked with them on the updates to the site.
- Some of those updates included actually restoring the site back to a more pristine initial condition than it was before Parker arrived.
- The $2.5 million in payments was not a fine, per se (though Parker doesn’t say if it was compelled or the reasons for the payment).
- The faux-stone work are prop stones and easily removable.
- The hotel that owns the grounds should have actually be responsible for correct permitting and regulation-following.
Whether you think it’s still not acceptable behavior to spend millions to re-landscape a natural space for your wedding, this clearly is—as with most issues involving the environment—a more complicated issue of trade-offs than it appears at first glance.