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News From Santa Ynez

Neverland Never More
by William Etling

Neverland Gate

Neverland has changed hands

When his company bailed Michael Jackson out of foreclosure with a refinance of a twenty-three million dollar debt in May, insiders predicted it was only a matter of time before Tom Barrack took over the keys to the ranch.

It didn't take long. On Monday, November 10, Michael Jackson officially deeded over ownership of Neverland's 2,675 oak studded acres to Sycamore Valley Ranch Company, LLC. Neighbors said moving vans and merry-go-rounds have been rolling down Figueroa Mountain Road.

Unsurprisingly, the man Forbes calls Richest American #227, Thomas Barrack, and the LLC have a common mailing address, 1999 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

Barrack, 61, has owned ranches in Santa Ynez for decades. His net worth is estimated at $2.0 billion. Early reports valued this deal at $35 million. Some sources said Jackson retained an interest.

From the Forbes profile: "Real estate kingpin attended U. of Southern California. Studied law at U. of San Diego, became international finance attorney. Worked on real estate side of Robert Bass' investment firm. Founded Colony Capital 1991. Made first fortune buying up bad real estate loans from struggling S&Ls. Today firm manages $25 billion. Invests in businesses with underlying real estate assets: casino (Station Casinos), hotels (Costa Smeralda in Sardinia). In May bought $23.5 million mortgage of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch from Fortress Investment Group, brought financially troubled pop star to negotiation table."

He's known locally as a polo fanatic, and recently won approval for expanded wine operations at his sprawling Happy Canyon ranch/vineyard.

Calls to Barrack's home went unanswered, and his plans for Neverland are unknown. The ranch was called Sycamore Valley Ranch before Jackson bought it in 1988, when the stately tudor manor was built by Palm Springs developer William Bone.

***Hallmark Hijack

Santa Ynez was taken over by Hollywood this week, as various venues up and down Sagunto Street were made-over to mimic a make-believe rural world.

The Maverick Saloon and Longhorn Cafe were full of men in black with spiky hair, large lights, and Panavision cameras.

The Maverick Saloon, Longhorn Cafe, Roasted Bean, and Valley Journal were full of men in black with spiky hair, large lights, and Panavision cameras. The flick reportedly depicts a young reporter who returns to her home town to save it from nefarious casino shenanigans.

The Maverick's website said, "You're invited to watch the filming of the upcoming Hallmark Movie, THE VIEW FROM HERE, starring ANGIE DICKINSON and JAMI GERTZ (Less than Zero), filming at the Maverick Saloon on Thursday, November 13th, 2:00 pm to 1:00 am. They need Line Dancers at 5:00 pm. Bar is open as normal."

Extras get paid to sit in a bar until 1 am! No wonder people still move to California.

Bars are generally bad places to get reliable information. The call sheet for the movie lists Laura Leighton as the intrepid reporter. Angie Dickinson plays the reporter's grandmother.

# # # #

William Etling is a 41 year resident of Santa Ynez, and the author of Sideways in Neverland: Life in the Santa Ynez Valley.

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