You may have had the misfortune of reading Sean Parker's rambling, solipsistic, 10,000-ish word apologetic on TechCrunch on Thursday. Or you might have realized that reading a Sean Parker rant is something that you unfortunately can't unread -- and decided against it. Or that there are only so many J.R.R. Tolkien references the average reader can stomach.
Or maybe you're sick of hearing about the Facebook billionaire's extravagant -- but ecologically perverse -- wedding ceremony in an endangered redwood grove in Big Sur, and this whole tit-for-tat makes you dyspeptic. To borrow a quote from famed Valley Wag Sam Biddle, it's clear that Sean Parker is "still an asshole 10,000 words later."
But we're loathe to admit Parker's actually right about one thing, and it has nothing to do with internet journalism or cultural sentiments about weddings. Rather, it's something Parker has pointed out in many a rambling apology -- that his $2.5 million settlement with the California Coastal Commission was actually a voluntary contribution, not a penalty.
That didn't quite square with us, given that the term "settlement" implies some kind of negotiated payment to stave off a lawsuit. And that was indeed the case, said Coastal Commission spokeswoman Sarah Christie, when we asked her to shed some light on the deal. But, she says, there's some truth to Parker's term "voluntary," even if it deceives people into thinking he made an altruistic donation.
Parker didn't actually have to pay, because the Coastal Commission -- which oversees 11,000 acres of coastline in California -- doesn't actually have administrative penalty authority. In fact, it's one of the few large state agencies that lacks basic common enforcement tools. If the Coastal Commission wants to fine you, it actually has to enlist the attorney general to file a lawsuit and launch a process that could take years. That doesn't make much sense at a time when both the agency and the court system are overburdened, and the alleged violation would likely persist for the entire duration of the lawsuit, Christie says.
Also worth noting: Attorney General Kamala Harris was at Parker's wedding.
It also means the Commission didn't have the wherewithal to sue the Ventana Inn, which was actually committing a huge violation of its own at the time Parker cut a backdoor deal to use its property for his Tolkien-inspired forest. As part of its land-use permit, the Inn was supposed to run a public campground on its property. The Inn had quietly shuttered that campground six years ago so that it could use the extra land for its lavish spa. Coastal Commission officials would have never known, Christie said, had they not launched their investigation into Parker's wedding.
So in a way, he did a good turn to the thousands of people who've missed an opportunity to camp on Big Sur because of Ventana's land hoarding. He also agreed to handle Ventana's $1.5 million fine, because the Inn itself wouldn't pay. "They lawyered up," Christie said, lamenting that a beleaguered state agency was no match for a class of stubborn aristocrats with unsinkable coffers.
At the end of the day -- and really, we can't believe we're saying this -- Parker has some right to be indignant. He paid someone else's fine in addition to his own $1 million settlement, just to keep the peace and repair his public image (which he promptly set to ruining). He also purchased a few easements to open new trails in the coastal redwoods, and as part of the agreement, he ensured that Ventana's campground would reopen next year.
And on top of all that, he shed light on a public policy issue that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. There's currently a state assembly bill -- AB 976 -- that would empower the Coastal Commission to levy fines for Coastal Act violations, without resorting to court prosecution. Parker gave it an unwitting plug.