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Actor criticized at county hearing

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By David Giuliani

The manager for Val Kilmer’s ranch wanted a San Miguel County panel’s approval for a lodging business on its property near Rowe.

But the proposal faced opposition from residents who say the actor hasn’t been a good neighbor.

In a split vote, the county Planning and Zoning Commission’s gave the green light for three guest houses for overnight lodging.

For years, many San Miguel County residents have been upset with Kilmer, known for his roles in “Top Secret,” “Top Gun” and “Batman.”

In magazine interviews in recent years, he has been quoted as insulting San Miguel County residents by calling 80 percent of them drunks and Vietnam veterans by describing them as “borderline criminal or poor.” He has stated repeatedly that he was misquoted.

In her presentation to the commission, Pam Sawyer, the manager of Kilmer’s Pecos River Ranch, said the ranch was converting three existing guesthouses into commercial lodging. Up to eight people would be in them at any one time, she said.

She said the lodging operation would only impact 100 acres of the more than 5,000-acre ranch.

But Abran Tapia, a neighbor of the ranch, urged the commission to reject the application.

“I’m a little ticked off,” he said. “He (Kilmer) has insulted the people of Rowe and Pecos saying that all the Hispanics here are a bunch of borrachos (drunks).”

Tapia said the ranch was an attempt at segregation, keeping out Hispanics.

“I’m sick and tired of segregation. Somewhere along the line, we have to say no to this activity,” he said.

Tapia accused the ranch of having a high fence to keep everyone out. He said Kilmer’s ranch wouldn’t let anyone fish along the Pecos River on his property.

Jose Garcia, who lives next to the ranch, said he and Kilmer haven’t greeted each other as neighbors.

“He’s been racist to the max,” he said, contending Kilmer has been mean to kids who want to fish on the Pecos.

Phil Howes, who lives on Kilmer’s ranch, said he understands the anger.

“I can appreciate where you’re coming from,” Howes said. But he said he had never heard Kilmer utter a discriminatory remark.

He said the actor has gone to Pecos basketball games and bought many T-shirts to throw out to fans, offered free wood-cutting opportunities on his ranch for local residents, and given out plenty of free turkeys at Thanksgiving.

Howes also said the actor has allowed people to fish along the Pecos, but wants people to ask first. He said the fence is eight feet high in places, but not everywhere.

One of the Planning and Zoning commissioners, Janice Varela, said the fence showed that Kilmer wasn’t being a good neighbor. She also said it inhibited the flow of wildlife in the area.

Varela and member Richard Rivera voted against Kilmer’s proposal, while Ernesto Salazar and Dwight Torres supported it.

Chairman Leo Martinez sided with Kilmer, saying, “I’m not going to get into personalities.”

The decision can be appealed to the County Commission.