Remember when Facebook co-founder and ex-Napsterite Sean Parker became the poster boy for ridiculously lavish displays of excess by basically recreating a Game of Thrones set for his Big Sur wedding to the tune of $10 million? And remember when he became a real life “Big Yellow Taxi” lyric by adding fake ruins, increasing erosion and sedimentation, and damaging redwoods? According to the California Coastal Commission, the structures caused “immediate physical damage to individual trees” and “impacted the existing redwood forest habitat,” potentially even harming the redwoods’ ability to reproduce. People were understandably pissed.
Well, maybe we should call off the dogs, a little. (Just a little!) Parker himself wrote to the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, who originally broke the story, to give his side. Madrigal pulls out three key points that redeem Parker somewhat:
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.”
Parker’s letter also says that, instead of $9 million or $10 million, he “spent roughly $4.5 million on prepping the site and … 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.” He admits “we made some mistakes” but claims “Contrary to media reports, no redwood trees were harmed by the wedding or construction. (At least none that I’m aware of.)” The CCC hasn’t responded to Parker’s statements.
Whether you fall into the “boo, rich guy messes with nature!” camp or the “calm the hell down, hippies!” camp, I think Yoni Appelbaum says it well: “Parker fell in love with the landscape. But instead of adapting his wedding to its demands and limitations, he adapted the environment to suit the wedding.”