Billionaire Paid Fines Or Risked Canceled Wedding
BIG SUR, Monterey County (CBS SF/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 Inc. and former Facebook Inc. 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’s 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 by CBS San Francisco and Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)