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How a tech billionaire’s Big Sur wedding led to an app that maps beach access in California

Napster co-founder and tech billionaire Sean Parker violated the state’s Coastal Act with his costly, star-studded Big Sur wedding five years ago — and now Californians are getting something back.

As part of his penance, Parker struck a deal with the California Coastal Commission — and the result is a mobile app that helps people easily find California beaches, trails and parking, according to CBS Los Angeles. The app debuted last week.

The YourCoast app was “a case of turning lemons into lemonade,” Lisa Haage, the Coastal Commission’s chief of enforcement, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We negotiated a creative agreement with a willing partner of great ability and expertise that will widely benefit the public.”

The free app provides information about 1,563 California beaches, including details like maps, access points, dog-friendliness ratings and parking availability, the Chronicle reported. This information is also available on the Coastal Commission’s website.

“It reinforces people’s sense that the coast belongs to them,” Jennifer Savage, California policy manager with the Surfrider Foundation, told the Mercury News. “A lot of times you might not see the access ways or know if something is public or private. The app arms people with more information and confidence.”

In 2013, Parker was set to marry Alexandra Lenas in a fantasy-themed event at a redwood grove on a hotel property in Big Sur, according to the Los Angeles Times. Among the custom decorations created by set decorators were a 20-foot gate, the ruins of a stone castle and a 50-foot stage.

Then the Coastal Commission stepped in, noting that the site was “supposed to be an affordable campground for the public that could not be closed for private events without permission from the commission,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Parker was cited for “disrupting public access to the campground and potentially harming sensitive habitat,” offenses that can cost between $1,000 to $15,000 per day, according to the Chronicle. Though the owners of the hotel, the Ventana Inn, were at fault, the commission said in a report that Parker took responsibility, the Chronicle reported.

According to the Mercury News, the Ventana Inn told Parker they would cancel the wedding unless Parker paid their penalties, which added up to about $1.5 million.

The first president of Facebook ultimately covered $2.5 million in penalties and agreed to build the app as part of the settlement with the Coastal Commission, according to the Los Angeles Times. Much of the money was used to help fund hiking trails and other public conservation and access programs along the coast.

“We wanted to do something more creative than just upping the amount of money,” Haage told the Mercury News. “He’s one of the world leaders in tech. He was excited about it (the app) and we were excited about it.”

Parker will also help the Coastal Commission develop a version of the app for Android phones (right now, the app is only available for Apple users). The last thing Parker owes the commission as part of the settlement: “an educational video that is required to go viral,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.