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Officials Approve Change in Tax Status Proposed by Jackson for Parts of Neverland

September 10, 2003|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

Santa Barbara County officials voted Tuesday to accept a request by singer Michael Jackson to remove unapproved development on portions of his 2,600-acre Santa Ynez ranch from state protections that have given him tax breaks for the last 10 years.

The decision follows a Santa Barbara County investigation that found Jackson had failed to file building permits on much of the development on his Neverland estate.

Meeting in Santa Maria, the county Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 0 to accept an offer by Jackson to remove his house, amusement park, zoo and several other buildings from the state's Williamson Act agricultural preserve program.

About 70 acres are involved, county officials said.

Larry Appel, supervising planner for the county, said officials discovered in April that Jackson had failed to file for building permits or comply with zoning ordinances on a variety of developments over a 10-year period.

Although the county has settled the Williamson Act issue publicly, supervisors have been holding closed meetings to consider legal actions to collect back taxes and possibly fines for permit and zoning violations.

"The permits that should have been filed are for everything from a gatehouse and a three-car garage to a primate center, a go-cart track, seven rides at his amusement park and a giant outdoor movie screen," Appel said.

Under provisions of the Williamson Act, created to protect ranchers and farmers, Jackson's tax payments will gradually be increased over a nine-year period beginning in January.

County officials have estimated that Jackson has saved about $70,000 annually in taxes.

County Agricultural Commissioner Bill Gillette requested a full report from the planning department in March after county planners raised the issue of Jackson's sprawling amusement park area.

The Santa Barbara County assessor's office put the 2002-03 assessed value of the Neverland Ranch at $12,292,618.

Jackson's property taxes this year were estimated at about $130,000.

Officials have said that without the tax break, the overall value of the property would increase by about $6 million, which would raise annual taxation to about $200,000.

Planning officials say Jackson legitimately leases most of Neverland to a cattle-ranching operation.

He has followed permit procedures and zoning ordinances on some of his developed property, but not all of his amusement rides and other construction, officials say.

Jackson's lawyers have declined to discuss the issue.

Jackson's troubles with Santa Barbara County follow a series of reports that he has serious financial problems.

Earlier this year, he lost a breach-of-contract case to a concert promoter and was ordered to pay $5.3 million in damages.

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