The Michael Jackson rumor mill started spinning again this week, as a call came into The Independent‘s offices from the Santa Ynez Valley on Wednesday with a hot tip that the state had approved Neverland as a burial place for MJ’s body. After a couple of calls, the rumor turned out to be entirely false, but the researching exercise did reveal some useful information.

It turns out that approving private property to be a burial site isn’t exactly done by secret ballot. It’s a very time-consuming process requiring loads of paperwork, and once the application reaches the affected jurisdiction, it’s also a very public process. Because there are so many steps involved, it’s unlikely that an application has been filed yet with the state’s Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, even if the Jackson family or the property’s official owners, Colony Capital, are interested in doing so.

That’s what the bureau’s spokesperson Russell Heinrich suggested, although he’s legally barred from discussing open cases, and therefore could not officially say whether an application has been submitted or not. But he did say unequivocally, “There has been no such approval.”

So why did he hint that the application probably hasn’t even been submitted? Because, Heinrich explained, “In order to become a licensed as a cemetery, you have to essentially create a cemetery.” That means an applicant must receive the required land use permissions from the presiding jurisdiction – in this case, the County of Santa Barbara, which could hold public hearings on the matter – as well as set up an endowment chair, fund a cemetery manager, and create articles of incorporation, among other tasks.

“So there is a lot of work on the front end that has to be done before we can receive a completed application,” said Heinrich. “The likelihood of there being anything to discuss is still probably weeks away.”

Nonetheless, the county’s 3rd District office heard the same rumor about state approval, and Supervisor Doreen Farr’s assistant Chris Henson confirmed that their staff spent some of the afternoon looking into the rumor.

County spokesperson William Boyer, now well rehearsed in all things Michael Jackson, was also able to quell immediate concerns over the possible Graceland-ification of Neverland. He explained that, while the state provides the permit, the county is very much part of the process and would “make a determination” as to whether such a use was appropriate for the proposed property. “None of that has happened,” said Boyer. “We have had no direct contact with the Jackson family or indirect contact with the Jackson family. We have had no formal request by the property owner : regarding any burial, funeral, or memorial service out there.”

Boyer did say, however, that the county counsel had received a call from the property owner’s attorney in the week following Jackson’s June 25 death with basic questions about the process for burying someone on the property. “There was no formal request, no formal application,” said Boyer, “just an attorney-to-attorney conversation about what would be the procedure.”

Of course, Boyer admits that when it comes to Michael Jackson, the future is never clear. “That’s not to say it isn’t gonna happen,” said Boyer. “We’ve just had no official contact.”

For Santa Ynez Valley-ites like Bob Field, who reported the burial approval rumor to The Independent, it raises the spectre of a frightening future for the bucolic valley. “I think it’s a clear attempt to sneak the ranch into being a Graceland-type theme park,” said Field on Wednesday, when he still believed that the state had approved the burial. “Let me ask you this: Would you buy a piece of property with Michael Jackson buried in the yard?”

Luckily for Field and others worried about Neverland becoming Graceland, it seems that if the property is ever approved as a burial site for Michael Jackson’s body, the whole world will know immediately via the state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau’s Web site. “If we do approve a cemetery for operation,” said Heinrich, “within 60 seconds of that approval, it will be on the Internet.”

Go ahead and bookmark that Web site here.


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