Our View: Star-struck city needs to say 'Cut!'

June 14, 2013 

Local governments have been feeling the pain. They've endured the worst recession in California since the Great Depression. They've spent years cutting and cutting. Now they're eager to swing for the fences and recruit glitzy job creators. This is fully understandable. But they have to be cautious about people making big promises on which they can't deliver.

A case in point is Dixon, a city of about 18,000 people in Solano County, 23 miles from Sacramento. Dixon, like so many areas, needs jobs. And it has been courted by a woman promising a $2.8 billion film studio that could employ up to 1,000 people. It sounds so appealing.

As The Sacramento Bee reported June 2, that woman, Carissa Carpenter, has spent much of the past 20 years wooing cities and counties with promises of a Tinseltown jackpot. In the past decade, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties had projects that Carpenter promised and did not deliver.

Dixon officials think their town may be the one that finally will cash in. As Dixon City Manager Jim Lindley told The Sacramento Bee, "A huge amount of people are very excited about having Nicole Kidman and Robert De Niro running around town."

Perhaps they are too excited.

In its investigation, The Sacramento Bee learned that Carpenter has a 20-year paper trail of tax liens, default judgments, settlements and embezzlement charges. The kicker was when Carpenter was interviewed by a Sacramento County sheriff's detective about embezzling funds from her grandmother and later charged with three felonies. Because Carpenter could not be located before her grandmother died in 2005, the case was dropped.

All during this time, Carpenter has used her show-biz skills to intrigue local officials with her dream of a big movie studio.

In 2004, Carpenter showed an interest in the Lathrop area for a movie studio and housing development. She says the deal fell apart because of water and zoning issues.

In 2011, Carpenter pitched a proposal to Gerry Kamilos as part of his West Park project at the former Crows Landing Naval Air Field. That possibility, which we wrote about in November 2011, had evaporated by spring 2012.

Dixon's leaders have been confident that Carpenter will come through with their project, even though she had failed to deliver on a $100,000 deposit to defray the town's planning costs for the project. Town officials had expected the purchase agreements for the 300 acres to be worked out in May, but — as with so much involving Carpenter — that hasn't happened.

Local leaders need to adopt the motto, "Buyer Beware." So should pension fund officials.

Carpenter's attorney, a former state legislator named Robert W. Naylor, told The Sacramento Bee that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers plans to "make a major investment of their pension fund" in the Dixon movie studio project. Again, we urge caution.

We could be wrong. Perhaps Dixon will score. But it is worth noting that a Hollywood figure touted as a key part of Carpenter's plans told The Sacramento Bee by the middle of last week that he no longer was associated with the Dixon proposal.

This is a lesson that local officials have to be wary of tying their dreams to those who have made a career out of unfulfilled promises.

The Sacramento Bee's special report is available at www.sacbee.com.

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