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Harris Sherline: Neverland Should Never Be State Park

There are many reasons it's a bad idea, but the primary problem is its location

The NAACP is backing an idea that has been advanced by California Assemblyman Mike Davis to turn Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch into a state park.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

The list of reasons this is a bad idea starts with the fact that there is no money in the state’s coffers for an expenditure of the magnitude that would be required to accomplish this, assuming it could be done at all. But there are plenty of other reasons, not the least of which is the location of the property in Santa Ynez Valley.

The entrance to Neverland is on a narrow country road that couldn’t possibly handle the volume of traffic that would be attracted to the site. The gates are gone, as is just about everything else that Jackson built or housed on the property — the Ferris wheel, bumper cars and other amusement park rides, steam engines that ran on a rail line around the grounds, animals in his personal zoo (elephants, orangutans, tigers, snakes, giraffes, etc.), wax figures of Jackson, his personal crown and portraits of him dressed as a king, life-size toys of superheroes and villains, Star Wars and Disney characters, life-size statues of Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee, Marilyn Monroe and others. In short, everything that made the place the attraction that it was. And, of course, the house and theater are reported to be in an extreme state of disrepair.

The cost to restore the 2,600-plus-acre property to the condition it was in when Jackson lived there would be astronomical, assuming it could be done at all. Start with the fact that it is now owned by Sycamore Valley Ranch Inc., a real estate company in which the Jackson estate is reported to still have an interest, together with Colony Capital LLC, an investment company run by a billionaire investor. It’s hard to see how the property could be acquired by the California State Park & Recreation Commission without a substantial outlay of cash that the state just doesn’t have.

Another consideration is the traffic that a Neverland park would generate. Think about this: Graceland has about 600,000 visitors a year, more than any other comparable attraction in the country except the White House. Given Jackson’s popularity, my guess is that the number of visitors to Neverland would be far greater than Graceland. But assuming, for the sake of discussion, that a Neverland park would attract the same number of visitors as Graceland, how would that impact the Santa Ynez Valley?

For starters, on average, there would be 50,000 visitors a month, or a daily average of nearly 1,700 people. Since the entrance to Neverland is on a narrow country road, visitors would probably have to be bussed in, which would amount to about 275 buses a day.

However, chances are that most visitors would travel to the Santa Ynez Valley by auto and, assuming four people per car, that would mean off-site parking would be required for well more than 400 cars a day. Fewer passengers would mean more cars, perhaps as many as 600 or 700.

Given the rural nature of the surrounding area, just where could such a large number of cars be parked? Certainly not in the nearby unincorporated hamlet of Los Olivos. If you think there has been a hullabaloo about traffic and parking at the Chumash Casino, you can just imagine how residents in the area would react to having a Neverland park in the valley.

Parking could, of course, be provided somewhere on the Neverland property, but that would mean a steady stream of two-way traffic on a narrow country road that exits on Highway 154, with 55 mph cross-traffic, where serious accidents already occur fairly often. Furthermore, there is little or nothing that could be done to alleviate the impact that so many cars would have on the residents who live on the access road to Neverland. 

Other problems that such a massive influx of visitors to the valley surely would create include the increased demands that would be imposed on the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department for full-time policing, along with county road repair and maintenance, and environmental concerns.

If you agree that this is a really bad idea, write or e-mail the Park & Recreation Commission at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to contact Assemblyman Davis. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to e-mail NAACP President Benjamin Jealous at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Valley residents should speak up before this really dumb idea gets any traction. I’ve already e-mailed this column to them.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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