Reagan’s Vacation : When the President Takes Time Off Out Here, the Costs and the Logistics Are Enormous

Times Staff Writer

The presidential chain saw has fallen silent, the meat-loaf pans have been washed, and Rawhide and Rainbow, as the Secret Service refers to President and Nancy Reagan, are back in the White House after a 25-day working vacation on the West Coast.

Life at the Reagans’ Rancho del Cielo, 29 miles north of Santa Barbara, was reportedly slow-paced and simple this year. But, as anyone who watched Air Force One leave the Point Mugu Naval Air Station near Oxnard on Sunday morning could see, the logistics of the First Family’s vacations are enormous. Clearly their vacation budget is a bit bigger and more complex than that of the average American.

The President has spent about one year of his 6 1/2 years in office vacationing in California. And those 356 days--the unofficial estimate of the White House transportation office--haven’t been cheap.


The White House, federal agency officials and many of the California business people who serve the presidential entourage cite security considerations in refusing to discuss the particulars and costs of the latest presidential R & R. But an unofficial and very conservative estimate based on knowledgeable sources puts the taxpayers’ share of the 25-day rest at $600,298--excluding such items as food and toiletries, which come out of the Reagans’ pockets.

Considering that the Reagans visit the ranch at least three times a year and Palm Springs each New Year’s--expenses for the presidential vacations in California have easily topped $8 million since they moved into the White House.

All Presidents take vacations, and, in terms of frequency, Reagan ranks somewhat lower than John F. Kennedy, who took one day of vacation for every 3 1/2 days in office, and a lot higher than Jimmy Carter, whose vacations took up only one of every 18 days he was in office, according to an estimate by Congressional Quarterly.

Here is a breakdown of the First Couple’s latest trip and a rough estimate of its costs:

On Aug. 13, the Reagans boarded Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, flew west, made a brief working stop in North Platte, Neb., and arrived that evening at Point Mugu. There, they boarded the Marine One helicopter, which passed uncomfortably close to a small private plane as it approached their 688-acre retreat in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Accompanying them was an entourage whose official numbers the White House wouldn’t reveal. But, said Mark Weinberg of the White House press office, about a dozen staff members stayed in Santa Barbara, among them National Security Adviser Frank Carlucci and White House Chief of Staff Howard C. Baker Jr. In addition, there were at least 24 military communications personnel, a dozen drivers and aides, and a minimum of 24 Secret Service agents, according to informed estimates.

Air Force One, a modified Boeing 707, costs about $5,728 an hour to fly, including “the people that fly it and maintenance to fly it,” a spokesman said. Flight time from Andrews Air Force Base to Point Mugu Naval Air Station averages just under five hours, so a round-trip total would be $57,280, excluding the stop in Nebraska on the way west or the stop in Kansas on the way back.


‘Doomsday Plane’

Whenever the President flies, Air Force One is followed by both a back-up version and the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, or the “doomsday plane” (a modified Boeing 747 that sometimes causes garage doors to open whenever it is in the neighborhood). Figures for those planes weren’t available, but if their costs are the same as Air Force One, the total would be an additional $114,560.

The presidential helicopter cost $840 an hour to fly in 1981, according to an Associated Press report. At least two additional helicopters accompany the President, so the cost for round-trip flights from Point Mugu to Rancho del Cielo, and from the ranch to Century City (at about an hour each way) would be $10,080. Factor in an additional $10 for the earplugs that members of the Marine Corps crew hand out to passengers.

Whenever the President is flying to or from Point Mugu, the California Highway Patrol also provides a sergeant and two traffic officers for about two hours at Point Mugu and the same number just north of Santa Barbara in Goleta as “standby escorts” according to Capt. Mike Porrazzo. A “good ballpark figure” for the officers’ four hours of overtime, he said, would be about $30 an hour, putting the ground support cost at $720.

Those in the entourage who don’t fly on Air Force One or with the press in the accompanying “zoo plane” (which is paid for by the media who fly in it), traveled on military aircraft or commercial airlines, the White House said.

The costs of military transportation could not be obtained. But, if a third of the entourage flew commercial airlines, ignored round-trip first-class air fare from Washington to Santa Barbara, which can be as much as $1,666, and chose instead the cheapest round-trip rate available, $308, the total would be $7,392.

Official-Visitor Tab

The government also picks up the tab for people coming to the coast on official business. The White House’s Santa Barbara press office wouldn’t detail the number of visits, but the general manager of Fess Parker’s Red Lion Inn said seven people on White House business stayed one night each. Assume that they also flew from Washington at cheap rates, and that totals $2,156.

While in Santa Barbara most of the staff and military personnel make use of government motor pool cars, Weinberg said. At least two dealers in Thousand Oaks acknowledged that they have delivered Fords, Chrysler Fifth Avenues, Ram Chargers and Diplomats to Santa Barbara for the Western White House pool. But they wouldn’t say how many or how much they charged.

When the President ventures away from the ranch, he is escorted by local law-enforcement agencies and the Secret Service. This year, as usual, Reagan attended a press barbecue--paid for by the Republican National Committee--at the Santa Barbara estate of industrialist Barney Klinger. His motorcade consisted, at a bare minimum, of two limos and three Secret Service vehicles.

Accompanying them were 18 highway patrol motorcycle officers from Los Angeles, two Santa Barbara highway patrol motorcycle sergeants and six local officers, who put in four to six hours of overtime each, according to a “real rough estimate” by Porrazzo of the highway patrol. That overtime alone, at minimum, costs $3,120.

In addition, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spends about $10,000 each time Reagan “comes off the hill,” said Del Tompkins, budget analyst for the department. And a Santa Barbara policeman reported that the office supplied 30 to 40 officers, including reserves--although no salary figures were available.

The President, on past trips, has spent as much as half his time on official business, the White House said. This vacation, however, was mainly for rest and relaxation, it was acknowledged.

Traditionally, Reagan spends much of his time riding horseback around his ranch, which is dense with oak, scrub oak, poison oak, manzanita, red-barked Pacific madrone trees, rattlesnakes and deer. He’s fond of cutting back the brush with a chain saw and also enjoys tinkering around the modest five-room adobe house set in a clearing near a small man-made reservoir.

Expanding the Patio

The President’s avowed tasks this trip included expanding the patio and continuing a fence-building project, said Elaine Crispin, press secretary to the First Lady. Nancy Reagan enjoyed working in her flower beds and with her flowerpots, Crispin said, downplaying stories that the First Lady is less enamored than her husband with the isolation of the ranch.

Anne Allman, the cook and housekeeper who has been with the Reagans since their Pacific Palisades days, does the First Family’s grocery shopping before their arrival, Crispin said. “Mrs. Reagan has always confessed to the fact that she’s not a cook,” Crispin added. “She enjoys setting the table, arranging flowers for the table, planning the menu . . . .” But it’s Allman who cooks their favorite meals such as meat loaf, macaroni and cheese and homemade soups.

In addition to an unspecified number of Secret Service agents (who have been known to patrol the grounds on horseback occasionally), only the White House physician and the military officer who carries the “football” containing nuclear missile codes actually stay on the Reagans’ ranch, Weinberg said.

Some members of the presidential entourage reportedly arrange for short-term housing in apartments during their summer stays; the rest book into Santa Barbara hotels, mainly the Sheraton and the Biltmore.

Entourage members this trip rented 20 to 25 rooms at the Sheraton, including “a good percentage of the ocean-view rooms,” according to the general manager. Assuming the same number at the Biltmore, 50 rooms at the two hotels for 24 nights of vacation at $100 a night (standard rates at the hotel range from $79 to $230) cost $120,000. Those seven visitors at the Red Lion would add an additional $700.

For expenses, exclusive of lodging and transportation, White House staff people get $30 per diem, said Weinberg. Per diem rates for military and civilian military personnel were not available. (“I’ve been in military a long time and done a lot of traveling, and I’ve never fully understood how everything works myself,” said a spokesman for the Defense Department in Washington.)

But, if three dozen military people, at minimum, were on temporary duty (TDY in military parlance) with the entourage, and using the same per diem of $30, the expense total for the military and the White House staff (not counting Secret Service) would be $36,000.

As is their custom on their vacations, the Reagans also visited Los Angeles and stayed at the Century Plaza Hotel for four nights while Reagan met with contra leaders, gave a foreign-policy address and discussed the Senate’s confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. In the evenings, they dined at friends’ homes, Crispin said.

The Reagans stay in the hotel’s five-room penthouse suite with 4,000 square feet of interior space and 4,000 square feet of outdoor wraparound terrace, occupying the entire 30th floor of the Plaza Towers building, according to Georgiana Francisco, director of public relations for the hotel. Presidential security and staff took over the 28th and 29th floors, each of which has eight suites, Francisco said.

The hotel would not reveal how much of a tab the entourage ran up, but the Reagan suite usually rents for $3,000 a night. The other suites, according to Westin’s reservation service, normally start at $800 a night. Together then, the four-night stay cost $63,200 (assuming that they weren’t charged for late checkout).

The rest of the entourage, excluding the media contingent, occupied another 200 rooms between the towers and main hotel, Francisco said. At $165--the minimum single, standard room rate in the main hotel, according to the Westin reservations service--the total comes to $132,000.

The cost, or even the details, of the massive security involved in the presidential trip is almost impossible to obtain.

“Talking about methods, manpower and equipment are pretty much taboo for us,” said Secret Service spokesman Rich Adams, adding that the agency is not required to make public specific figures concerning presidential protection.

Various Los Angeles Police Department sources said a discussion of security costs during the President’s visits to Los Angeles would give potential terrorists more information than they ought to have.

“We never discuss the deployment of a protective detail,” said Police Commander George Morrison, who is in charge of dignitary protection.

But on the most recent visit, it is known that:

At least two police patrol cars were in the 12-vehicle presidential motorcade that drove the quarter-mile route from the helicopter landing site to the hotel’s underground garage. A minimum of six more patrol cars prowled outside the hotel for two hours before the President arrived. Constellation Boulevard, which was closed to traffic for at least 15 minutes before the President’s arrival and departure, was patrolled by foot officers who kept small crowds of spectators behind barriers; other officers were in the hotel lobby, in parking structures, at strategic locations around the hotel grounds and on balconies and rooftops of surrounding buildings; a police SWAT team reportedly worked at least part time during the President’s visit; police bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers were in plain sight at the hotel; and a police helicopter reportedly stood by. Immediately after Reagan’s arrival, a group of 42 police officers milled about near a line of 20 motorcycles outside the hotel’s parking structure.

“You cannot imagine what the manpower is,” said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. “. . . It’s three shifts of officers. It’s a lot of cash.”

Nobody would say how much.

In addition, four L.A. city fire engines, including a hook-and-ladder truck, stood by as the President’s helicopter landed and departed, and a two-person paramedic crew and ambulance were on duty “out of service” round-the-clock during the Reagans’ stay.

“The cost to the taxpayer was zip,” according to City Fire Department Battalion Chief Dean Cathey. “It would be the same thing if we had an incident anywhere. We have the ability to take roughly 20 companies out of service without having a serious impact” on the protection of the city, he said.

Legislation Sought

Further security costs would include, in Santa Barbara, pre-trip Secret Service briefings with the highway patrol at about $180 and the $1,000 a day or so the Sheriff’s Department spent on undisclosed protection throughout the stay--$25,000. In addition, the Coast Guard or Navy reportedly patrol the Santa Barbara channel when the Reagans are vacationing, but there were no figures available.

Outside of California, however, the security costs were more readily accessible. When the President stopped in Nebraska on his way west, 100 state patrol officers were on hand for his four-hour visit to North Platte, at a cost of roughly $17,000 to $20,000, according to a spokesman there. The local sheriff’s office also supplied manpower, and the town of 24,000 turned out its entire 31-person police force, according to Police Chief Martin Gutschenritter, at an overtime cost of $900.

“Everyone loves the President in North Platte,” Gutschenritter said. “People would have worked for nothing.”

In Los Angeles, on the other hand, City Council President John Ferraro said he will ask the City Council this week to pass a resolution requesting legislation to make the federal government reimburse the city for some of the money it spends protecting dignitaries--including the President.

Sunday morning, Point Mugu was bustling at 6:30, in preparation for the presidential helicopter’s 8:30 arrival and the departure of Air Force One.

On hand were: at least a half dozen Defense Department security guards with blue berets; at least a dozen Secret Service agents wearing green-and-gold lapel pins and wires dangling from their ears; another half-dozen uniformed Secret Service agents; two white-capped, white-gloved Marine honor guards; and at least 10 Navy Police in camouflage uniforms with two bomb-sniffing dogs.

In addition, a dozen sailors in their dress whites, several Department of Defense personnel wearing cowboy-type hats; two airmen wearing red caps reading “63APS” (who said they drove up from Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino to service Air Force One “and now we’re getting paid for standing around”); four highway patrol cars, each with one or two officers; and three General Telephone workers who installed the phone system that runs to Air Force One (“When he took office, it was quite a lot of work, but now it’s just maintenance . . . ,” said one. “The moment the plane stops, the phone lines are plugged in, as soon as they’re pulled, he’s rolling”).

Copters Land

About 8:30, three Marine helicopters landed; the Reagans, their entourage and the pool reporters flying with them got out for a short goodby to a small throng of well-wishers.

A few minutes later, Air Force One roared into a perfect California sky, headed for Topeka, Kan., and the 100th birthday party of Republican statesman Alf Landon, before landing finally in Washington.

Back at Point Mugu, the men on top of the hangar loaded their rifles into cases and walked away. A small fleet of dark-blue Chryslers wheeled off, as did the panel truck containing a SWAT team, the yellow trucks with flashing lights, the Secret Service Silverado and Suburban, and the ambulance.

“My vacation starts tomorrow,” said one of several men with walkie-talkies, ear phones and red and gold lapel pins. Politely refusing to disclose his agency or the nature of his assignment, he added: “I’ve got my bags packed and I’m ready to go. This was not a vacation for us.”