Close window  |  View original article

Blackmail by Bureaucrat

The California Coastal Commission commits a good old fashioned shakedown.

By Hobbes  |  June 12, 2013

Your humble correspondent does not usually read gossip or society pages; they only promote several of the Seven Deadly Sins, starting with envy and lust and going on from there.  Besides which, 99% of the time anything they say is totally irrelevant to life, the universe, and everything real.

Every now and again, though, even the beautiful people collide with the real world in a revealing way.  That just happened to Facebook billionaire Sean Parker - at his wedding, no less.  Fox News reports:

The California Coastal Commission and Parker said they have reached a $2.5 million settlement to pay for coastal conservation programs after the Napster co-founder built a large movie-set-like wedding site in an ecologically sensitive area of Big Sur without proper permits.

Now, for a celebrity-marrying billionaire like Mr. Parker, $2.5 million is chump change. Still, what on earth did he do to garner such an outlandish hit - bulldoze Old Faithful?

Not at all!  For one thing, he held his wedding on private property - "a closed campground owned by Ventana Inn & Spa."  In fact, his choice of venue seems to have spun up the bureaucrats even more:

"Despite the continued unauthorized closure of the campground to the public, earlier this year, the property owner entered into an agreement giving Sean Parker exclusive use of the campground for several months to construct a sizeable wedding venue," the commission's staff wrote in a report.

How the heck can it be "unauthorized" to close a private business?  One assumes it was losing money or else it wouldn't be closed.  It's bad enough that American entrepreneurs have to kiss the ring of the state in order to enter into business, now we have to get permission to leave it?

Speaking of business, the whole point of business is to sell your product for the highest price you can get from a willing buyer.  The campground wasn't making money as a campground; Mr. Parker appears with an undisclosed but presumably hefty check.  Of course the property owner entered into an agreement with him.  Waaah!  Waaah!  Oh, the humanity!

Well, the bureaucrats don't care two hoots about humanity, its propagation, or wedding ceremonies which at least traditionally made that possible.  They certainly don't seem to feel that the concept of "private" property even exists.  The pretext for this shakedown was that the campground was in an "ecologically sensitive area" and Mr. Parker didn't get permits for his wedding digs - which, to be fair, were somewhat more extensive than the usual wooden lattice arches and buffet tents used in our circles.

The parties reached the agreement after officials were tipped that Parker had built a cottage, fake ruins, waterfalls, staircases and a huge dance floor near iconic redwoods and a stream with threatened steelhead trout.

Let's assume for a moment that there is some plausible moral justification for bureaucrats to be concerned with temporary construction on private property and its effects on the flora and fauna thereon - though we don't really see one.  So the Green Police show up and find Mr. Parker's hardhats tromping all over the trees and flowers and chirping birds, and immediately haul them off in chains?  Not exactly:

When staff inspected, they found the temporary structures had already been built, but they allowed the wedding to proceed anyway.

The commission started negotiating a settlement with Parker and his representatives instead of shutting the event down.

"Mr. Parker has been extremely cooperative and actively involved in working with Coastal Commission staff to reach this resolution which both addresses our Coastal Act concerns and will result in greater coastal access and conservation in the Big Sur and Monterey Peninsula areas," Charles Lester, the commission's executive director, said in a statement.

Now let's think this through for a moment. Consider the fire marshal inspecting, say, a nightclub. He finds that there's no emergency lighting and that the exit doors are all chained shut, except for the front door that the big bouncer stands in.  Oh, and he sees the band rigging up pyrotechnics on the stage for their performance that night.  What is he going to do?

You'd think he'd shut the nightclub down on the spot as being an unsafe firetrap.  It's possible that he doesn't have the legal authority to do it on his own so he can't, but he'll certainly scurry around to a judge who can.

What the fire marshal is most definitely not going to do is tell the media that the nightclub owner has been a longtime contributor to the Fireman's Widow's Support Fund and that they'll be working with him over the next few months.

There's only two possibilities for the fire marshal: either the nightclub is unsafe to the point that they must Do Something Now, or it's OK.  Logically, the Green Police have the same two possibilities: either irreparable harm is being done to protected endangered species and Something Must Be Done Now - or not.

How can it be that Mr. Parker's wedding wasn't doing any harm worth stopping, but was worth shaking him down for $2.5 million?

We find the answer a little further on, and it's a truly frightening one if you're not a billionaire - or even if you are:

"So as soon as he was made aware of the Coastal Commission's concerns, he immediately stepped forward to discuss how he could protect the coastal area and resolve these issues," Zbur said in an email.

Parker also asked his guests, many of them extremely wealthy entrepreneurs and celebrities, to donate to Save the Redwoods or the California League of Conservation Voters in lieu of giving gifts, according to a program.

Since Parker did not get permits for the construction, commission staff will oversee the breakdown of the vast set so no damage is done to the environment. The commission said no major damage had yet been done, but it wanted to reach a deal quickly so the violating structures could be removed safely. [emphasis added]

Get this: no major damage had been done, and everything was already set up by the time the Green Police showed up with lights flashing.  Mr. Parker hadn't in fact hurt anything at all!  No bulldozed Old Faithful, no chopped-down thousand-year-old redwoods, not even any dead fish.  The whole thing was a crock.

But it was a profitable crock - because some high-up bureaucrat realized that Mr. Parker and his guests are "extremely wealthy entrepreneurs and celebrities" who can be hit up for big bucks.

What happened here is exactly what Al Capone used to do to businesses in Chicago: "Nice place you got here - shame if something happened to it."  And Mr. Parker sighs and says, "How much?"  The answer: $2.5 million and all your wedding presents.

If a fire marshal operated this way, we'd put him in jail for corruption at least, if not accessory to murder when the nightclub burned down and incinerated all the trapped patrons.  When environmentalist bureaucrats do this, well, that's just business as usual.  We put up with it because what they are supposedly "protecting" does not in fact actually matter.

The actions of the commission, as publicly reported, proves that their whole operation is a lie and a fraud.  If the regulations really mattered, they'd be enforced no matter how rich the guy was and how much dosh he offered.  The fact that Mr. Parker was able to write a check and make the problem go away proves that the "environmental regulations" did not address a real problem at all - they are just another opportunity created by Big Government to steal from the public.

That's fine if you're a billionaire to whom the odd few million means nothing.  That's not fine if you're an ordinary person or an ordinary business - like the Ventana Inn & Spa that rented him their venue.

They thought they'd found a happy customer who'd pay them good money to use their loss-making abandoned campground for a wedding.  Instead, whatever money they made was stolen by a thieving bureaucrat:

The Ventana is negotiating a separate settlement for allowing the construction to occur.

Mr. Parker is now happily married and still has more money than most of us.  As for the Ventana Inn & Spa, one wonders, but clearly nobody cares.