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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 7:35 am | Fair 48º


Santa Ynez Residents Say Never! to Conversion of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch

A group forms to oppose turning the Santa Barbara County property into a Graceland-like attraction

More than three weeks after the death of pop music star Michael Jackson, speculation continues about the future of Neverland Ranch, near Los Olivos. But a group of Santa Ynez Valley residents has spoken about when they think the home should be converted into a Graceland-esque homage.

Their answer is never.

That answer is also the name of their group, Never! — complete with an emphatic exclamation point, signaling how they feel about the ranch, 5225 Figueroa Mountain Road, becoming even more of a tourist attraction.

Santa Ynez resident Bob Field is spearheading the efforts of the Never! group. He says the area surrounding the ranch lacks the type of infrastructure needed to support high volumes of visitors. Graceland and Hearst Castle see 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a day, nearly a quarter of the population of the Santa Ynez Valley, according to Field.

“We’re really trying to avoid a fight,” he said, adding that he twice reached out to the company that owns the ranch, without results. He remains hopeful, however, because he’s been able to make peace with his neighbors in the surrounding Happy Canyon neighborhood in the past.

Last year, when the family who owns Neverland Ranch wanted to develop a public winery, controversy broke out among the neighbors, concerned that public wine tasting and “a big drinking party” didn’t fit the neighborhood, Field said.

“We settled that over a cup of coffee,” he said, adding that he hopes the Neverland issue will have the same outcome — on a bigger scale.

If you thought the media frenzy over Jackson’s death was over, think again. While on the phone with this reporter, ABC beeped in on Field’s phone line. Before taking the call, Field said Access Hollywood, USA Today, Business Week and a flurry of other media outlets had contacted him.

Distaste for the idea of converting Neverland into an attraction is unanimous among most of valley residents, he said. Also of concern is the property’s zoning, which designates it for agriculture and would require an overhaul of Santa Barbara County’s General Plan. Field said he believes it would set a precedent for other ag lands where developers would like to reap commercial profits.

The property’s owner, Tom Barrack, is the billionaire real estate investor and founder of Colony Capital LLC. According to valley residents, Barrack has assured them he has no plans to repackage Neverland as a tourist spot. He’s even hosted several high-end dinners at the ranch, by invitation only, to assure them he has no plans at this time.
“The universal curiosity about Neverland and its connection to Michael is an unchangeable fact,” Barrack said in a statement released last month. “We must be prepared for the fact that visitors and fans will come, with or without permission or an invitation.

“The consideration of the future of the Neverland property will be addressed in due time through normal process and with appropriate deliberation.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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