Background

BACKGROUND :

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) 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)

INTRODUCTION TO NEVER! :

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 A BURIAL SITE AT THE RANCH

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.

THE PROBLEMS WITH THE “GRACELAND” IDEA :

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.

THE SUPERIOR ALTERNATIVE :

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.

A REQUEST OF THE CURRENT LANDOWNER :

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.

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