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Bittersweet time for town as Jackson trial ends

Crowds will be gone, but so will the extra dollars
/ Source: The Associated Press

As the Michael Jackson case reaches its conclusion, some residents of this small city are ready to say good riddance to the crowds — but others will miss the windfall the trial has brought.

For the city, the extra tax money will mean new library books and money to fix potholes. For Carmen Jenkins, whose cafe near the courthouse is perpetually packed these days, the boom will mean a new BMW.

Jenkins saw the cash cow coming and moved to a bigger storefront, installed a wireless Internet connection and, to cater to the tastes of the foreign press corps, expanded her menu.

“It’s like having a party and inviting someone from every part of the world,” said Jenkins, 46, the high-energy owner of Coffee Diem. “It brought so much fresh new air to the city.”

For others in this fast-growing city of 88,000 nestled in a fertile valley up the coast from Los Angeles, the case has offered its own trials: traffic hassles, an eternal association with the lurid case, and mobs of reporters and Jackson fans who mobilize at the whiff of any development.

Kathleen DeVoe, 50, said mayhem broke out at the dental office she worked at when Jackson was admitted in February at the nearby Marian Medical Center for treatment of flu symptoms. She said “the media were extremely rude,” nabbing all the spaces in a private parking lot.

Thursday was more mellow; jurors left after deliberating most of the morning. No reason for the short day was given, but the judge noted last week that some jurors wanted to attend school graduation ceremonies.

It was the fifth day jurors debated whether Jackson molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at his Neverland ranch in the hills surrounding Santa Maria and conspired to hold the boy and his family against their will.

Many in the city have tried to ignore the spectacle that includes scores of hard-core Jackson fans at the courthouse each day. About 2,100 journalists have credentials to cover the trial, although not all of them are at court every day.

“We’re not going to live or die on what happens to him,” said Robert Hatch, chief executive officer of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce. “But we’ll make people feel welcome, so next time they’ll come back. For the most part we’ve done that.”

A bed-tax boomThe longer the case continues, the more money flows to city coffers. So far, city officials estimate they have gained an extra $215,000 from extra hotel bed taxes and rental of offices and parking spaces.

Since the start of the trial, Santa Maria has gained an otherwise unexpected $79,000 from its share of the bed tax, an increase of 16 percent compared to last February, March and April, according to city figures. It’s not a huge sum for a $41.6 million annual budget, but the money will help stock library shelves and pave roads, said city spokesman Mark van de Kamp.

Just how the city will remember its role in the trial?

At the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society Museum, exhibits show the rise of the community from the days when the region was inhabited by the Chumash tribe of American Indians.

The growth of the town, known as Central City before being incorporated as Santa Maria in 1905, is depicted in photos and memorabilia, including a full-size horse-drawn buggy and a miniature oil derrick.

The museum has yet to install a Michael Jackson exhibit.