County to Kilmer: Show up

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By David Giuliani

The San Miguel County Commission wants actor Val Kilmer to explain himself — in person.

The commission is considering a proposed lodging business on the “Batman” star’s ranch near Rowe.

Kilmer’s neighbors have complained about his comments to national magazines, which they see as degrading toward northern New Mexico’s Hispanics and veterans.

During a more than two-hour hearing Tuesday, the residents said the rancher wanted to create a segregated community for rich whites with his proposed lodging business, which would consist of three guesthouses.

In March, a 3-2 majority of the county Planning and Zoning Commission approved the actor’s proposal. But Rowe resident Abran Tapia appealed the decision to the County Commission.

Tapia distributed copies of Kilmer’s controversial comments. In magazine interviews in recent years, the actor 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 in other media that he was misquoted.

Ranch employees have told the county that their plan is to convert three existing guesthouses into commercial lodging. Up to eight people would be in them at any one time, they said.

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

But Tapia and other residents didn’t speak much about the particulars of the ranch’s plans. They focused on Kilmer’s perceived attitude toward native northern New Mexicans.

“He has insulted everyone in this room,” Tapia said. “We can’t sit in the back of the bus.”

Others argued that approving the business would impact the rights of land grants, with land-grant activist Paul Martinez yelling at the commission to respect the Constitution.

“You have no authority to touch those lands, and if you do, we’ll sue you,” he said.  

But Brian Sandoval, who leads a business association in Pecos, told the commission that Kilmer has supported the community, giving to athletic teams. Sandoval said he was in the room when Rolling Stone magazine interviewed the actor and that its reporter had misquoted Kilmer about veterans.

“As a member of the business community, Val has always participated. He frequents our community, spending money,” said Sandoval,  a former ranch manager.

During the commission’s discussion, Chairman David Salazar said he was upset when he read Kilmer’s statements.

“I haven’t heard that he apologized publicly,” he said. “We are the voice of the public, and we should protect the public in any way we can.”

Salazar asked for County Attorney Jesus Lopez’s opinion.

Lopez called Kilmer’s comments “incendiary,” adding that they were an insult to a county whose population and leadership are predominantly Hispanic.

He said an expanding ranch operation, combined with Kilmer’s previous comments, could create a “clear and present danger” that could affect the county’s health and safety. Allowing the expansion without an explanation, an apology or denial from Kilmer could “foment unrest,” Lopez said.

He suggested the county give the actor 30 days to appear before the commission.

The commissioners agreed.

“I think everyone in this room and everyone on this commission reflects the view that San Miguel County is a tolerant community. But it’s not without limits,” Commissioner Nicolas Leger said.

He said Kilmer is a relatively recent arrival and that natives should be treated with respect and dignity.

But he said the issues surrounding the ranch’s request are “fairly limited.”

“That’s all we really have to go by. There may be an issue with the land grants, but that’s beyond the jurisdiction of this county commission,” Leger said. “What we attempt to do is to treat everyone fairly, and that includes Mr. Kilmer.”

The commission voted unanimously to table the ranch’s request and require that Kilmer come before it within the next 30 days.

After the meeting, Pam Sawyer, Kilmer’s ranch manager, declined to comment on whether Kilmer would speak to the commission.