Facebook Billionaire Wedding Ignores Law, Wrecks Environment, Pays $2.5 Million

Facebook billionaire Sean Parker wanted an elaborate wedding based on the Lord of the Rings and wasn't going to let little things like the law or some environmental damage stop him.

sean-parker-elvin-wedding

Facebook billionaire Sean Parker wanted an elaborate wedding based on the Lord of the Rings and wasn’t going to let  little things like the law or some environmental damage stop him.

ValleyWag (“The Full Damage of Facebook Billionaire Sean Parker’s Fantasy Wedding“):

 When California regulators told Sean Parker that the elaborate, Tolkienesque set for hiswedding wasn’t permitted, he went along anyway. Was this just eco-oversensitivity? Nope: Parker’s grotesque ceremonial mound was a redwood-damaging, erosion-spilling indulgence.

From a new report by the California Coastal Commission (unearthed by The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal), it’s clear that Parker didn’t give a damn about the consequences of an artificial castle in pristine woodlands—“Neraida,” the company he created just to oversee his wedding, didn’t obtain any necessary permits. He and his wife wanted a dream wedding with elven cottages, and they were going to get it, even if it meant settling with state regulators for $2.5 million after the fact. When you help make Facebook a billion-strong global entity, you don’t worry about permits, my friend. Permits are for the rest of us.

It must be nice to have money.  I mean, sure, this is excessive but, hey, you find a woman who wants an elven dream wedding, you’re not going to let paperwork get in the way of romance.

The report says no appropriate anti-erosion mechanisms were put in place, and, like something out of a Disney villain’s dreams, Parker built fake fantasy amusement park walls right into giant old redwoods. “The unpermitted development has thus impacted the existing redwood forest habitat and has likely caused sedimentation of Post Creek,” the report says—Post Creek is notably home to threatened fish. Threatened enough already without being exposed to a billionaire’s dirt runoff and hubris.

The lesson here? None, really, other than it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and even easier to create an LLC to manage your $10 million wedding and then spend another $2.5 million paying off California when it tells you you’re breaking the law.

Morally, I’m not sure this is any worse than driving 85 in a 55 zone, which people known to me have done on more than one occasion. After all, the penalty for both is a fine and those with more means find the fine less burdensome than others.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    There ought to be more severe penalties for those who knowingly and willfully break the law like this. Jail time. Let them consummate their marriage in a conjugal visit trailer.

    At the very least, the cost of complying with the law should be less than the fines for violating the law. I’d apply that standard to everything from this to the banking industry.

  2. Matt Bernius says:

    Morally, I’m not sure this is any worse than driving 85 in a 55 zone, which people known to me have done on more than one occasion.

    Have to disagree with you here James. Driving 85 in a 55 zone doesn’t leave marks on the landscape. What’s pretty clear is that this left some immediate and potentially longer term marks on the forrest. From the report:

    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.

    […]

    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.

    [Emphasis mine]

  3. anjin-san says:

    Morally, I’m not sure this is any worse than driving 85 in a 55 zone

    Really? Excuse me for saying so, but you sound like a man who is very f**cking confused.

  4. wr says:

    Another demonstration that the laws of this country are only for the little people.

    And somehow JJ is just fine with this. God bless the Republicans.

  5. PJ says:

    He should be applauded not hated, he’s a job creator!

    How many jobs didn’t the $10 million he spent create? And now the government is punishing him by stealing $2.5 million of HIS money.

    /SNARK

  6. PJ says:

    Also, if he’s fined like this while creating jobs, he’ll just pack up his Facebook billions, renounce his citizenship, and move to Singapore.

    He should get a tax credit instead.

  7. Moosebreath says:

    @Gustopher:

    “At the very least, the cost of complying with the law should be less than the fines for violating the law. I’d apply that standard to everything from this to the banking industry.”

    And violations of mine safety and NLRB ordinances, where the fines are generally treated as a cost of doing business by the employers.

  8. John Burgess says:

    Couldn’t he have bought half of New Zealand for what he’s being fined?

    I’m sure Peter Jackson would have rented the Hobbiton set for that kind of money.

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    Look, the answer to this isn’t more intrusive government regulation, but simply the magic of the market. If the redwoods don’t want to get despoiled, they can simply bid on another wedding by a more ecologically sensitive bill…eh, even I can’t keep this up anymore.

  10. PJ says:

    Not sure why they need to return the site of his wedding back to normal. Sean Parker is a true genius and visionary who has shown us that dreams can come true. The CCC should just build on what he has created and build a theme park on the site, and it should name the park Sean Parker Land to honor his greatness.

  11. David K. says:

    Seems to me they should be able to get him on criminal charges like trespass, destruction of property etc. and throw him in jail. If they can’t then they need to change the laws so next time some rich dumbass does something like this he won’t be able to get out of it by throwing money at the problem.

  12. rudderpedals says:

    Congratulations newlyweds! Uh oh, the gamesmaster thinks the damage will last longer than the marriage. Turn over 2.5E6 GP, change alignments to Evil, and take permanent -2 INT adjustments.

  13. James Joyner says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Driving 85 in a 55 zone doesn’t leave marks on the landscape.

    No, but it could kill somebody’s kid. Or a vanload of them.

    @wr:

    And somehow JJ is just fine with this. God bless the Republicans.

    I’m not fine with it; I think it’s appropriate that he’s paying a whopping sum for it. And I imagine he’s a Democrat; most of these people are.

    @David K.: I’d think some of this would be illegal, too.

  14. PJ says:

    As pointed out elsewhere, he’s not fined since he settled. I guess he paid himself out of getting a fine too….

  15. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:

    No, but it could kill somebody’s kid. Or a vanload of them.

    That’s a could, not a will.

    What Sean Parker did, that’s a will, and not a could. Doing what he did will leave marks on the landscape.

    And what glorious marks he has left for us!

  16. anjin-san says:

    No, but it could kill somebody’s kid.

    There is a risk of this every time someone drives a car, even if they never, ever break the speed limit. And we all still drive every day.

    There is not a risk of damaging a habitat that was centuries, perhaps ages in the making every time someone gets married.

  17. Tillman says:

    And I imagine he’s a Democrat; most of these people are.

    Everyone’s a Republican when they want to do something and the government won’t let them, and they’re a Democrat when they want the government to do something for them. Basic rule of thumb when reading American politics, high-minded arguments and political philosophy notwithstanding.

    @John Burgess: Yeah, that’s what’s weird to me about the whole story. He’s rich enough to get the actual set, or to reproduce the actual set with the money he poured into this, hiring the people from the movie to do it all for him even, but he chose to screw up California’s redwoods because he’s too lazy to fly to New Zealand?

    I mean, New Zealand is a hell of a flight, but you’re rich! Jesus Christ, first class airfare to New Zealand is hell on earth now? And don’t tell me you can’t coordinate flying all the guests and the caterers and coordinators etc, you can hire people to do that for you!

    It’s not that poor and struggling people resent the rich because they’re rich, they resent them because schmucks like this can’t figure out how to use what is obviously too much money to do completely self-aggrandizing things.

  18. matt says:

    @James Joyner: You would have a point if the person who was breaking the speed limit also ran over some kids..

  19. Argon says:

    Should’ve hit him where it hurts by applying a sentence of 500 hours community service picking up trash along the highways. Time is more important than money for this guy…

  20. rudderpedals says:

    Lighten up, we don’t know if Pripyat was not fully booked before they picked the park.

    New Zealand in the winter probably couldn’t work with the couple’s summery June wedding costumes.

  21. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    And I imagine he’s a Democrat; most of these people are.

    Who are you calling “these people”….?

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    And I imagine he’s a Democrat; most of these people are.

    Possibly, but I imagine he’s also a libertarian. Silicon Valley is thick with them.

  23. Dave Schuler says:

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

    Laws are there for a reason. If we are to have a society in which there are a significant number of people with really vast wealth, punitive fines need to take that into account. Otherwise there is truly one law for the rich and another for the poor.

    $2.5 million sounds like a lot of money and to me it is a lot of money. Apparently, to this character it’s not. The fine shouldn’t have been $2 million. It should have been $2 billion.

    1
  24. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Dave Schuler: Two billion is excessive. What he and his crew should be required to do is to restore that which they changed to it’s original condition. The problem is that they can’t and we end of with another tragedy of the commons like outcome.

  25. superdestroyer says:

    Classic left of center thinking: the rules are for others.

    1
  26. Anderson says:

    Pity he based his wedding on LOTR and not Game of Thrones.

  27. Dave Schuler says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    The number wasn’t pulled out of thin air. He has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion. $2 million is chump change to him.

    1
  28. Matt Bernius says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Laws are there for a reason. If we are to have a society in which there are a significant number of people with really vast wealth, punitive fines need to take that into account. Otherwise there is truly one law for the rich and another for the poor.

    And that was, at least partially, the source of Alexis Madrigal’s frustration. Your point about the fines is spot on btw.

    1
  29. gVOR08 says:

    IIRC some years ago Finland based traffic fines not on a standard amount, but on a percentage of income; and the owner of Nokia paid a speeding fine of a couple hundred thousand dollars.

    1
  30. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders: Most of these 20-something tech billionaires, and especially the Facebook people.

    @Dave Schuler:@Matt Bernius: I don’t know what the limits of judicial discretion are but surely they’re well below that. Damages paid should be commensurate with the damage done, not proportionate to ability to pay. But, yes, any system of fines is more punitive to the poor than the rich. A $100 speeding ticket is huge to a college student, inconvenient to most 30-year-olds, and nothing to an executive.

    @gVOR08: That strikes me as silly. Why is a rich man speeding more dangerous than a poor man speeding?

  31. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: Sorry, it isn’t silly. The point to a speeding fine isn’t to compensate for hypothetical potential damages. The point is to deter speeding. As you observed yourself, a hundred dollar fine is no deterrent to a wealthy person. Why should a billionaire, or your executive, be allowed to speed with impunity?

    1
  32. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    Damages paid should be commensurate with the damage done, not proportionate to ability to pay.

    Why? If we want damages to serve as deterrence, then they should be proportionate to ability to pay. If the fine is so small as to be negligible, then it serves no deterrence function, and in effect allows to essentially buy their way out of compliance with the law.

    1
  33. Rafer Janders says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    And, I should add, besides deterrence, fines as also serve as punishment. So again, if the fine is so small for that wealthy person as not to be noticeable, there’s no punishment. which again lets the rich out of the consequences of their actions.

    1
  34. Tillman says:

    @James Joyner:

    That strikes me as silly. Why is a rich man speeding more dangerous than a poor man speeding?

    Because his car is more expensive and thus presumably less likely to disintegrate on impact.

    Also, because he’s rich, he does it more often due to how infinitesimal the fines are compared to his monthly income.

    It’s silly as a theoretical question, but entirely appropriate as a practical one.

    @Dave Schuler: While I agree perfectly with the sentiment, two billion still seems too high. Twice the cost of repairing the damage would work for me. Even better, the government could have private companies bid on repairing the damage and bill him for the costs, which would be inevitably over-budget. Creates jobs.

    If the rich are going to be idiotically rich and we’re not going to tax them at an appropriate level, we might as well start making them pay for the costs of their needless destruction in other ways that use the free market to hit two birds with one stone.

  35. Tillman says:

    @rudderpedals:

    New Zealand in the winter probably couldn’t work with the couple’s summery June wedding costumes.

    But then they could’ve waited until northern hermisphere winter to both get married in summery New Zealand and turn it into the first stage of their globe-trotting honeymoon!

    I guess some couples just can’t wait.