Editorial: Star-struck Dixon needs to say, 'Cut!'

Published: Thursday, Jun. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 5, 2013 - 11:02 am

Memo to local governments: We feel your pain. You've endured the worst recession in California since the Great Depression. You've spent years cutting and cutting. Now you are eager to swing for the fences and recruit glitzy job creators. You want some home runs for your tax base. Go for it. Swing hard. But watch out for those spit balls.

We say this after reading an astoundingly detailed, deeply researched article in The Bee on Sunday about Dixon's hopes of landing a $2.8 billion film studio. As recounted by The Bee's Marjie Lundstrom and Sam Stanton, Dixon has been courted by Carissa Carpenter, who has spent the last 20 years wooing cities and counties with promises of a tinseltown jackpot.

Dixon officials think their town may be the one that will finally cash in. As Dixon City Manager Jim Lindley told The 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.

As Lundstrom and Stanton have documented, 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 unlikely locales. The counties of Sacramento, El Dorado, Sutter, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Solano have all been courted, only to watch deals fall apart or problems crop up.

And what about counties that might be feeling snubbed, such as Yolo and Placer? Perhaps they will be next.

Of course, that will happen only if local leaders fail to do their due diligence. Dixon clearly hasn't.

As of last week, its leaders were confident that Carpenter would deliver, 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 Bee that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers plans to "make a major investment of their pension fund" in the Dixon movie studio project.

If that is the case, then IBEW members might want to elect new leaders.

We could be wrong. Perhaps Dixon is now backing the right horse after it came up lame backing a horse racing project that voters rejected. But local officials there, and elsewhere, should also be wary of tying their dreams to those who have made a career out of unfulfilled promises.

If local officials are interested in movie projects, we advise they go home tonight and watch a classic film from 1960, starring Burt Lancaster. It is called "Elmer Gantry."

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