June 4, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correpsondent
In March, four months after the death of the legendary Hollywood star Larry Hagman, his marble and glass, 23,000-square-foot home atop Sulphur Mountain sold to a Hollywood non-profit group associated with the Church of Scientology for $5 million.
“I’m worried about traffic on that road,” said Amie Lindsay, at the Stagecoach Station store in Upper Ojai. “I grew up on Sulphur Mountain Road, it’s never been very safe, and it’s full of traffic already.”
The property, which had been for sale for more than two years, was originally listed for $6.45 million. The sale went through shortly after a title dispute between the Hagman estate and a neighbor south of the property — the religious non-profit Meher Mount group — was resolved.
Terrance Rodsky, attorney for the Hagman estate, explained that a survey revealed that a fence long used as a boundary had been installed in the wrong location, giving a half-acre of land mistakenly to the Hagman estate.
“The fence had been constructed prior to the Hagman’s purchase of the property,” Rodsky said. “Everyone assumed it was on the boundary line. When this turned out not to be the case, it raised some interesting legal questions, and ultimately we felt we had to have the court rule on the question to clear the title.”
Although the Hagman estate and the Meher Mount group settled their suits out of court, both sides continued the legal battle over a tax issue, which was settled in a ruling in May by the Second Appellate Court of Appeal. Judge Brian Hoffstadt, writing for a three-judge panel, said that the Hagman estate did not owe taxes to the county over the disputed half-acre of land.
“The court said that the estate did not owe taxes on this (half-acre) property, because the Meher Mount is a religious non-profit, and was never billed for property taxes by the county,” Rodsky said. “How do you pay non-existent taxes?”
The 173-acre property, near the Hagman estate, is owned by the Meher Mount Corporation. The group was founded in the 1950s by wealthy followers of a spiritual leader from India, and was intended “to provide for the betterment of mankind by implementing the teachings of Meher Baba.”
The Hagman property was purchased by another religiously minded non-profit group, the Social Betterment Properties International, which is affiliated with the Church of Scientology, and is headquartered at the same address on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. A spokesperson for the group said plans for the property had not been finalized, but would not comment further at that time.
Some residents expressed wariness about the arrival of the group in Ojai, but also were not surprised by the appeal of the town for the group.
“I think Ojai draws a lot of spiritually inclined people,” said Ojai resident Tony Khalife. “I think if they leave us alone, they will be all right, but if they start stopping people on the street, and engaging in cultural aggression, then there will be a conflict.”
“Scientology is full of mystique, isn’t it?” said Patrick Russell, while walking his dogs in Libbey Park. “I’ve seen many documentaries about it, involving many well-known Hollywood personalities, such as Tom Cruise, but I really don’t know what to think about it.”
Realtor Kathy Stone, who specializes in Upper Ojai, expressed some regret.
“It breaks my heart,” she said. “It’s a beautiful property, and it sold for less than it cost to build.”