Friday, November 8, 2013

Never! Strong local opposition to Neverland becoming another Graceland

Will these gates remain closed to the fans forever?

In 2009, the Santa Ynez Valley community group "Never!" was formed with the sole mission of opposing any attempt to convert Neverland Ranch into a commercial venue or Graceland-like tourist attraction.

I don't know what has become of the group since then, (there are only two posts on their website) but the forming of the group is a testament to the fact that there is a great deal of - understandable and perfectly reasonable -  local opposition to Michael's former home being turned into a tourist attraction.
Still, even the best arguments are lost on a Neverland afficionado. The mind may understand, but the heart refuses to listen to common sense even though you know deep inside the dream is never going to come true.

Anyway, this is what they write on the community group website:

"In 1988, seeking a place to find peace and quiet, Michael Jackson bought the beautiful and secluded Sycamore Valley Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, and renamed it Neverland. Seventeen years later, when he lost that peace and quiet, he abruptly left the Santa Ynez Valley, never to return.

In 2008, a multi-billion dollar real estate investment firm (Colony Capital, LLC) bought the property for $35 million (with Michael Jackson a partner of unknown remaining interest) (Enola's note: It is 87,5%) and simultaneously changed the name back to Sycamore Valley Ranch. Sadly, as we all know, Michael Jackson passed away in June 2009, suddenly and tragically.

Now, it appears that a small number of people may be trying to capitalize on the unfortunate circumstance of Michael’s death, by enabling (or pursuing) a Graceland-like conversion of this remote ranch. Repeatedly asked, the owners have refused to rule out the possibility, and have acted in ways which make it look like it might be the goal: although they had immediately removed the name Neverland from the property in 2008, they recently distributed free hats that say “Neverland 2009”.

In addition, on July 10 and 11, the owners hosted a number of by-invitation-only tours of the ranch for about 150 county politicians and opinion leaders — the press was denied access. While being well fed, invitees were given comforting reassurances that there were no current plans and no desire for a burial, or for a conversion of the ranch to a tourist attraction. (After speaking with attendees, this version of events was reported by media including the Santa Barbara News-Press and KEYT.)

However, for some reason, within six hours of the first report of the meetings and the reassurances appearing on the web, someone apparently representing the owners felt compelled to issue a written statement containing none of the reassurances and making it explicit that they had not “rejected any options”. (see Etling Examiner article)

Not surprisingly, the above incidents have alarmed this community.

The overwhelming majority of Santa Ynez Valley residents, whether they have stayed here for multiple generations, or moved here more recently, have chosen to live in the rural Santa Ynez Valley for the same peace and quiet that attracted Michael Jackson.

Never! is a grassroots organization formed in response to the outcry from residents. Never! will give voice and staying power to the great majority of people of the Santa Ynez Valley who are committed to preserving this community’s rural character.

The sole mission of Never! is to stop all attempts, including creation of a burial site, to convert this secluded ranch into any type of tourist attraction — this precedent setting, urban-style development of our agricultural lands will be vigorously opposed.

Never! is proud to announce that its mission has already received support from the following community groups in the Santa Ynez Valley: Buellton Is Our Town, Preservation of Los Olivos (P.O.L.O.), Santa Rosa Road Ag Alliance, Santa Ynez Valley Alliance, and Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens.

The problem with creating a burial site at the ranch, and why it will be resisted, is that the site would immediately become a tourist attracting “shrine”. This is certain to become such a nuisance and safety concern that the property value would be destroyed for any other uses. Therefore, an attempt to create a burial site is seen as a deliberate first step towards the development of a Graceland-like tourist attraction.

1) The specific problems with this development idea relate to its huge impacts, and the total lack of necessary urban infrastructure to support it.
The number of visitors easily could reach 5,000 to 10,000 per day (Graceland and Hearst Castle reach 4-5,000 per day each) — the population of the entire Santa Ynez Valley, all five towns included, is only 22,000. This volume of additional visitors would overwhelm the community. The nearest local town is tiny, with a population of only 1,000 people, and it does not have a gas station or a sewer system.
In addition, the ranch is located in a high fire danger zone 12 miles from a fire station. It is 11 miles from the nearest sewer system, police station, gas station, and a tiny hospital. The nearest public water supply is 5 miles away. All of the roads serving the Valley are two lane rural roads; the narrow and winding five mile road to the ranch is not close to meeting the published County Design Standards.
It will take years and cost a small fortune to develop the necessary infrastructure — if the environmental impacts don’t prohibit their development altogether.

2) The general problem introduced by this idea is the precedent that it would set, which is colossal in its negative implications.
As a prerequisite for this project, the County would have to amend its General Plan to allow, for the first time, urban developments on Ag-zoned properties, county-wide. This longstanding County prohibition is the primary reason that Santa Barbara County has not gone the way of sprawling over-development — like other southern California coastal counties.
Once this door is opened, there is no good way to predict the number of requests that would come in from developers with dreams of large-scale urban projects on County agricultural lands. It is not legally supportable to treat property owners so differently that these requests could be denied.

A far superior alternative — for the Jackson family, for the millions of Michael’s fans, and for the Santa Ynez Valley — is to develop a Graceland-like attraction in a major city like Las Vegas or Los Angeles. Permission could be obtained in far less time (and at less risk), it would be far less expensive (because the necessary infrastructure already exists), and it would be many times larger (due to ready access to millions of residents and visitors).

The only significant beneficiary from doing this development in the Santa Ynez Valley is the multi-billion dollar real estate investment firm that bought the ranch on speculation.

Never! has made a request of the ranch owner: Please renew, without delay, the land conservation agreement (commonly known as “Williamson Act” contract) with the State of California.

(The “Williamson Act” contract is the premier agricultural land conservation tool in in the State of California; it offers dramatically reduced property taxes in trade for restricted development for a rolling ten year period of time. Disturbingly, the current contract covering this ranch has been placed under formal notice of non-renewal and, unless it is renewed, will expire in 2012.)

At a recent series of private meetings with about 150 local politicians and opinion leaders, representatives of the investment company stated that they did not want to see the ranch broken up, did not think it possible to adequately secure the ranch for a Michael Jackson burial site, and did not think the development of a Graceland-like scene was appropriate for the Santa Ynez Valley.

There are no fees associated with reactivating a Williamson contract, it significantly reduces property taxes, and it meets all of the owner’s publicly stated goals.

The Santa Ynez Valley community would be immediately relieved and forever grateful if the owner were to renew this Williamson Act contract without delay."



  1. How do you feel about this E? I am so torn between respecting the wishes of the local residents, not to mention the common sense reasons against bringing in thousands of tourists daily... and my selfish longing to be able to walk that property.
    But what I long for could never walk those paths in peaceful near-solitude, to feel Michael's presence.
    Paris! Please grow up quickly and make your dream come true!

    1. Well, to tell you the truth, I am a little hurt by this. It is not so much that they oppose turning Neverland into another Graceland, because I understand that this is not a god idea in a rural area, but it is more what I read between the lines: That they don't want us there at all. The fact that they think that a replica in Los Angeles or Las Vegas would serve the purpose of making Michael's fans happy just goes to show that they have not understood what Neverland means to us. It is the PLACE ITSELF that we care about. No replica will fill out hearts with joy and peace.
      Try telling a devout Christian that the cave in Lourdes in France is closed - but that there's a copy in the next town... It wouldn't go down well, now would it?

  2. One more thing... If I was looking for amusement park rides, cotton candy and cheap plastic merchandise I would go to Disneyland - which I will at one point - but in this case it is not the kind of experience I am looking for.

    I want a spiritual experience.

  3. yeah , I understand the residents of Santa Ynez valley completely and I understand the reasons that they don't want us there , but they are not MJ fans , even though they speak respectfully of him.
    You are right E in your comparison to the Lourdes caves , "moving"it to LA wont work , so I think it will stay the way it is.I would just like to see it lived in , for instance by the kids yes ! though that will , if ever , be many years from now .
    I want to walk with you H , in silence , alone on the ranch and feel Michael , but that will never happen...

    1. You know what strikes me to the most about your comment? The last line and in particular the words "silence", "alone" and "feel."

      This is exactly what a trip to Neverland would be all about for me. In fact, they can tear down the main building and erase every trace of the amusement park and zoo and turn the whole thing into pastures. It doesn't matter to me.
      I just want to walk and meditate in those hills for an hours or two, completely undisturbed by other human activities.

    2. I think the best solution would be that Paris could make her dream come true... I'd love to see all of Michael's kids have the option to live there, and wouldn't it be a wonderful tribute to their dad to bring in disadvantaged or sick kids to enjoy the premises... maybe not with a fully restored amusement park or zoo (but as long as I'm dreaming I long for the carousel to be returned!) (yes I'm crying again because I do so want Paris to have that carousel) but maybe to enjoy Disney films in the theater, ride the train, enjoy the peace there. It would be a wonderful experience for inner-city kids and ill children.
      Even if Michael's kids just had that place to live in (and I don't want the house to be torn down or any of the standing buildings), security would be necessary to keep the rest of us out. I would hope that Michael's estate could afford that. ... and maybe once a year by lottery Paris might let a few fans in for the experience we long for. (I'd pay for that priviledge)

      OK I'm done dreaming... drying up my tears.

    3. Hi Helen,
      Yeah, I know how you feel about the carousel. And I agree... If and when one or more of the kids move into Neverland, the carousel should be returned. It belongs there. I don't know if it can be done though. It was aquired by David Helm of Helm & Sons Amusements - along with the the Crown steam train, the CP Huntington train, the Spider, the Slide and the Wave Swinger.
      So, as you can see, there will be no train rides either, unless of course Helm & Sons Amusements want to let go of the trains.

      I'd happily pay for the priviledge too.

  4. There is one key point that has been missed in all of this, in relation to the Los Olivos/Santa Ynez residents not wanting loads of tourists turning up. I understand that, so what about this...

    Entry to Neverland Ranch is by Pre-Booked tickets only, and all visitors arrive by a designated bus. The meeting point for this bus could be dotted throughout various locations. E.g., one in Los Angeles - yes it's a 2 hour journey but real fans won't mind.

    Guests are to be warned that they will be REFUSED entry if they turn up direct to Neverland and that tickets cannot be purchased at the ranch - ONLINE only and in advance.

    This limits the number of people that can come per day (safety and volume of tourists).


    1. Hi Dan,
      I've been thinking along those lines too, but I'm not quite sure the tour operator would be able to transport enough guests for the business to be cost-efficient. So unless, they don't care about making huge profits, I doubt it's going to happen...although rumor has it that the estate is actually working on something right now. We'll see... But it would definitely appease the locals, if it was done the way you suggest.