Posts Tagged ‘Tom Barrack’

Michael Jackson State Park: No Thriller for Locals

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

By William Etling
Special to Calbuzz

The two families braving 93 degree heat to visit the Neverland Ranch gate over the weekend were all in favor of making the late Michael Jackson’s estate near Santa Barbara a California State Park.

Peace-and-quiet-loving citizens in the neighborhood are not so blithe.

Nicolai, Birgitte, Lea, Jonas and Anton Bentzen came all the way from Denmark to see the place, and were a little bummed that only the guard shack is visible from the road.

Maria Martinez and nieces Gabriella, Denea, and Samantha live just up the road in Santa Maria, where Jackson was acquitted of molestation charges a few years ago.  “It’ll be great for the kids,” Maria said of the state park proposal.

A year after the ruckus surrounding the death of the King of Pop, the laid back residents of the Santa Ynez Valley had just begun to think they could turn their back on Neverland.

Then came the recent statement by Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-L.A., that the California Department of Parks and Recreation should look at taking over the property.   Davis, who said NAACP president Alice Huffman approached him with the idea, is poised to pursue the idea when lawmakers return from a month-long recess in August, a possibility that’s generated a round of head-shaking among locals.

The 2,676 acre estate is five miles from the tiny town of Los Olivos where Sideways was filmed, bordered by other large ranches and Midland, an exclusive prep school. The Los Padres National Forest is nearby.

The state park project would be in the district of Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr, who said, “I think the idea is problematic in several respects because of the state’s fiscal woes, the lack of infrastructure locally to support it and what would probably be significant community opposition.”

Solvang mayor Jim Richardson said, “I like the idea of more tourists for Solvang, but I’m opposed to the traffic it would cause on Figueroa Mountain Road, and it would change the character of Los Olivos – that would be a sad day for the Valley.”

The Los Olivos Business Organization reprised the same objections they voiced last year at this time when fans called for a MJ museum:

We believe that a concept like this would be a significant detriment to the unique character and well being of our town, would not be good for the majority of businesses in our town, and would overwhelm our rural infrastructure.

This project would also jeopardize the Agricultural Zoning that keeps the wineries, horse ranches, and agricultural producers that our economy is based on viable. Like Michael Jackson, the majority of residents in the Santa Ynez Valley chose to live here for the tranquil settings and rural character that it provides.

Bob Field, spokesperson for Never!, a group formed to prevent a Graceland style attraction, said “Our position on the inappropriateness of any such development has not changed.”

One local who probably loves the idea is globetrotting investor Tom Barrack, who controls MJ’s former fantasy ranch through the private equity firm Colony Capital.  Barrack owned a ranch in this sleepy village even before he was a deputy under-secretary in the Department of the Interior in the Reagan administration in 1983.

Barrack converted the pop star’s amusement park area into a series of gardens and is renovating other parts of the estate, according to Bloomberg News. He says he’ll sell Neverland when the real estate market recovers, hopefully for more than $100 million. According to the Santa Barbara county recorder’s office, Colony paid $35 million in a joint venture with Jackson in November of 2008.

Fighting the local tide of frowns was Santa Ynez Valley Real Estate Company broker Allan Jones. He said, “Let the current owner do with it what he wants. I hope I sell it.”

Journalist and Calbuzzer William Etling has been prominently featured in national media reports about Michael Jackson and the late pop star’s Neverland estate. He has written more than 400 columns and articles about the Santa Ynez Valley, and is the author of Sideways in Neverland: Life in the Santa Ynez Valley.

But what about the hot tubs? Before Monday, the most attention that Washington Post feature writer Manuel Roig-Franzia ever attracted in his career came when his editor punched him in the face in the newsroom.

From now on, though, Roig-Franzia will also be known for penning the worst profile of Jerry Brown in history.

Given his latest accomplishment, it’s a little ironic that he got smacked in the puss by Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Henry Allen after defending a female colleague whom Allen had accused of writing “the second worst story” he’d ever seen. The fact that Roig-Franzia’s gallant defense of his colleague consisted of telling Allen “not to be such a cocksucker” injected a layer of moral ambiguity to the incident, however.

In any case, the 68-year old Allen has since taken a buyout from the paper, while the punked out Roig Franzia was allowed to continue plying his craft, a management decision which resulted in the unfortunate piece on Brown that the Post inexplicably chose to publish on Monday.

As a professional matter, it’s not easy to write a 2,532 word story that contains not a single shred of new information. Our man Manuel managed not only that trick, but also the feat of larding on every tired cliché about California and Brown in the process, starting with this dreckful lede:

Hate to break this to you: Time’s whizzing by. You’re getting older.
Need proof? Brace yourself.
Jerry Brown is 72 years old.

Stop the presses, Maude: Manuel Roig-Franzia’s performing his own special brand of journalism again!

Things went downhill after that.

Apparently Brown in his early days was an “endless summer wonder boy” and a “bliss-following political son who was soo California cool.” Also: he dated Linda Ronstadt, has an “abstract, slightly dazed portrait” hanging in the Capitol, practices yoga, is a notorious tightwad who rented an apartment instead of living in the governor’s mansion and – get this – was dubbed “Governor Moonbeam” by Mike Royko.

As for California, how about those whacky New Age Left Coasters!

Apparently it was once “the empire of the laid back,” but now when people here “talk about being underwater, they’re referring to their mortgages, not afternoon dips off Malibu,” even though the state “still has Google and the movies.”

Memo to Style section: Next time save the expense money for this guy to punch his ticket to California and let him write from the office. Trust us, you won’t notice the difference.

Why the King of Pop Can’t Be Buried at Neverland

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

michael-jackson-neverlandBy William Etling
Special to Calbuzz

Hotel rooms sold out in the sleepy Santa Ynez Valley Tuesday, as the world’s press corps descended in pursuit of rumors about Michael Jackson’s burial, viewing, memorial service and/or museum in and around his former Neverland Ranch.

As Santa Barbara County officials reportedly met about a local service for Jackson on Friday, fervid fans pushed a much hotter rumor – that he would be buried at Neverland, which would then become the site of a Graceland-like museum, one of the late pop star’s fondest dreams.

However, the illustrious patriarch of the Jackson clan, Joe Jackson, said Michael would not be buried there, and Don Loper, director for the Loper Funeral Chapel in nearby Ballard, had a succinct answer to the question.

“No,” said Loper, explaining that, legally, only ranches with grandfathered personal cemeteries may be used to bury remains. Of course, ashes could be scattered anywhere.

neverlandaerialThe possibility of a Jackson museum put Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr, elected on a slow-growth platform, on the political hot seat, caught between music fans and her pro-green supporters. Speculation about a Jackson museum ignored one King Kong-sized if prosaic issue, however: zoning.

The ranch is five miles from the tiny wine tasting town of Los Olivos, where “Sideways” was filmed, out in the middle of fields and farms.

Santa Ynez Valley residents have spent the better part of a decade on a simple update of their existing community plan. After all that effort, and some riotous meetings, the final product is not much different from the prior plan, and it says that agriculture is ag, downtown is downtown, and never the twain shall meet.

The ranch formerly known as Neverland (the new owners call it Sycamore Valley Ranch) is zoned agricultural. Legally, it takes a Conditional Use Permit to apply for a commercial enterprise on ag land.

Brooks Firestone, the wealthy, connected former Assembly member and ex-Supervisor, who started Firestone Winery and is the scion of the tire fortune, abandoned an attempt to get a conditional use permit to hold weddings at his Foxen Canyon property near Neverland in 2008. The votes just weren’t there for it.

Tom Barrack, who bought Neverland for $35 million in November of 2008 through his company Colony Capital and lives nearby, was mauled by his Happy Canyon neighbors when he asked to open a winery recently. He eventually got approval to make wine, but easy public access was negotiated away.

Even affable octogenarian Fess Parker (Disney’s Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and the dad in Old Yeller) was politically pummeled by locals when he wanted to plant a resort amid the vineyards in 2004. The Fess Fuss even made The Wall Street Journal.

In this vigilant valley, commerce and cows don’t mix, which is why Supervisor Farr said in an interview that protecting agriculture may trump any plans for a Michael Jackson museum.

etlingJournalist William Etling, the author of  “Sideways in Neverland: Life in the Santa Ynez Valley,” was interviewed about Michael Jackson this week by CNN, the London Times, French radio, Rolling Stone, USA Today, KABC-TV, and some newspaper in South Carolina, among others.