The Truth About Town Government
When actor Val Kilmer recently applied for permits to turn his 6,000-acre ranch outside Santa Fe into an upscale bed-and-breakfast, several of his neighbors protested.
"That's all he has to do, come and apologize," said Jose Garcia, who runs horses on a 50-acre ranch next to Mr. Kilmer's. "We're not intimidated by him."
Mr. Kilmer, who starred in "Tombstone," "The Doors," "Batman Forever" and, more recently, "MacGruber," was quoted -- misquoted, he says -- describing his rugged corner of New Mexico as "the homicide capital of the Southwest."
He went on to avow that "80% of the people in my county are drunk," requiring him to carry a gun for protection. That was in a 2003 interview with Rolling Stone.In Esquire two years later, Mr. Kilmer was quoted -- again, misquoted, he says -- opining that he understands Vietnam better than its veterans, because most of them were "borderline criminal or poor … wretched kids" who landed in the military because they "got beat up by their dads" or "couldn't finagle a scholarship."
At a hearing last month on Mr. Kilmer's application, a half-dozen locals and veterans demanded the star apologize before being allowed to welcome paying guests onto his Pecos River Ranch. The county attorney, Jesus Lopez, backed them up. Mr. Kilmer's quotes were "incendiary" and, dated as they may be, created a "clear and present danger threatening public safety," he said.
Taken aback by the outrage, the San Miguel County Commission opted to postpone debate on the permits. The next day, Alex Tafoya, the planning and zoning director, wrote Mr. Kilmer's ranch manager to explain that "your application will remain tabled until Mr. Kilmer appears personally before the Board of County Commissioners" to answer questions about his alleged remarks.
Commissioners later clarified they weren't demanding the star appear in person. That is beyond their legal powers. But they suggested it would help his cause if he'd stop by.
"It's a situation that's pretty volatile," said David Salazar, the commission chair. "The opportunity is there for him to come and set the record straight."
The flap attracted the New Mexico ACLU, which offered to represent Mr. Kilmer, arguing that whether or not he had actually talked trash about his county, he had every right to do so without fear that his permits would be held hostage.
Since the ACLU's entrance in the case several weeks ago, most key players have clammed up. Mr. Kilmer's ranch manager wouldn't comment; the county attorney said he stood by his remarks but wouldn't elaborate; and the ACLU didn't return calls and emails.
The commission has called a June 23 hearing. Officials say they expect Mr. Kilmer to be there.
Mr. Kilmer, who flirted last year with a run for governor, has lived in New Mexico for decades. Last year, he put his ranch up for sale for $33 million, but it failed to sell.
Pecos River Ranch websites dated 2005 and 2008 offer descriptions of the lodging, daily rates and advice for tourists (bring sunscreen and bug repellent; "kindly refrain" from taking Mr. Kilmer's photo should you spot the star). That suggests Mr. Kilmer has opened his lodge to paying guests in the past. But county officials say the ranch has never had the permits for it.
Mr. Salazar, the commission chair, acknowledges that, apology or not, the county is bound by law to consider the permit application on its merits. Still, he said, "you never know what might happen."
And some protesters vow to keep up the pressure, even if Mr. Kilmer does show up this week, ten-gallon hat in hand.
"An apology isn't good enough. He's insulted and hurt too many people," said Abran Tapia, a veteran and local resident. "People here want him out of New Mexico.""