Jackson Fans Swarm Santa Ynez Valley

The Santa Ynez Valley is known as a place to unwind, maybe with a glass of the region's wine -- that's not the case this week.

Fans gathered outside Neverland Ranch this week for what they expected would be a public viewing or some type of memorial event for Michael Jackson.

Heavy construction equipment passed through the ranch's gates this week in preparation.

Many hotels in the Santa Ynez Valley were booked because of the anticipated Jackson event and the Fourth of July weekend.

Others relied on Spartan accommodations.

"I'm going to be staying in my car," said one fan. "I have food, water, everything like that."

The Chamber of Commerce in Santa Maria, site of Jackson's child molestation trial, distributed maps and fielded questions from visitors, including many from the East Coast.


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By Tuesday night, more than 30 TV news trucks parked outside the gates of Neverland Ranch. Yellow police tape kept gawkers and media off the property of two private schools across the street from the ranch, which is tucked off a winding, two-lane country road in Santa Barbara County, and fans in campers trickled in.
The excitement, however, appeared to be for nothing.

The Jackson family released a statement Wednesday afternoon.

"Contrary to previous news reports, the Jackson family is officially stating that there will be no public or private viewing at Neverland. Plans are underway regarding a public memorial for Michael Jackson, and we will announce those plans shortly."

A person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that no public memorial would be held at Neverland Ranch and that Jackson would likely be buried in Los Angeles. The source, who was not authorized to speak for the family and requested anonymity, told the AP that nothing is planned at least through Friday, although the family could have a private memorial at Neverland after Jackson is buried.

The person said billionaire Thomas Barrack, who owns Neverland in a joint venture with Jackson, sought an exemption to bury the singer at the ranch. But the person says it's a complicated process and it couldn't be done for a burial this week.

"The family is aware a Neverland burial is not possible. They are expected to make decisions about whatever funeral and memorial service" will take place, the source said.

It was not possible to rule out that Jackson's body might return to the ranch, either for the private service or a burial sometime in the future, if the family can get the go-ahead from state and local officials.

Asked about the possibility that Jackson could be cremated and the remains brought to the ranch, the person said, "That's not the plan."

The family would need to get permission from local land-use officials to bury Jackson on private property, then submit an application and paperwork with the state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau.

The state application would then need to be approved by the funeral board, a process that could take anywhere from seven to 30 days.

Kim Brown, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, could not confirm any application had been filed by Jackson family representatives unless the certificate had been approved.

County officials were already discussing the logistics of meeting the Jackson family's wishes and accommodating visitors.

Lt. Butch Arnoldi, a Sheriff's Department spokesman, told E!: "Our guys are meeting as we speak with the California Highway Patrol to discuss the security issues."

Santa Barbara County Fire spokesman Capt. David Sadecki confirmed to The Associated Press that fire officials, California Highway Patrol and county sheriffs officials met to discuss "the whole Michael Jackson thing."

"The Santa Barbara County Fire Department is willing to accommodate the Jackson family with whatever request they have regarding a funeral procession should they have one," Sadecki said.

Neverland is located in the rolling hills of central California's wine country, about 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Rick Quintero, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, said the CHP had not received a request for a motorcade as of Tuesday morning. He said if the motorcade crosses through CHP jurisdiction, as it likely would from Los Angeles to Neverland, they would need to be notified.

"They would definitely need to notify us because it's going to impact the motoring public. At the point they decide it is going to happen we have to be involved because it's going to impact our jurisdiction," Quintero said.

In an open letter to the Santa Barbara community, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., who set up a joint venture with Jackson that took ownership of the 2,500-acre property, warned residents that the world will quickly descend on Santa Barbara and Neverland as fans grieve.

"We must also prepare to accommodate Michael's family's wishes as they contemplate the location of his final resting place and their own return to the tranquil grounds of the Michael Jackson family compound."

The California Highway Patrol has internal meetings under way to plan for a Jackson caravan that could bring Southern California's congested highways to a standstill. Sgt. Mark Garrett said the agency had not been notified of the family's plans, but was preparing nonetheless.

"It's just like when the president comes to town," Garrett said. "We want to ensure people are not putting themselves in danger."

At once a symbol of Jackson's success and excesses, Neverland became the site of a makeshift memorial after his death Thursday. Scores of fans have streamed past the gated entrance to leave handwritten notes, photographs, balloons and flowers.

He was 29 and at the height of his popularity when he bought the ranch, naming it after the mythical land of Peter Pan, where boys never grow up. There, he surrounded himself with animals, rides and children.

Jackson fled the ranch -- and the country -- after his acquittal on charges that he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor in 2003 at the estate after getting him drunk.

Jackson moved luxury cars, artwork, jewelry, costumes and other property off the ranch last year for an auction that never occurred.

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