Amid growing uncertainty over the future of Carissa Carpenter's splashy movie studio proposal in Dixon, city officials defended their actions during a sometimes testy meeting Tuesday night.
"I make no apologies," Mayor Jack Batchelor Jr. said, his voice trembling with emotion at times.
"I haven't done anything behind the scenes or to put this city in jeopardy. No money from the city has been spent or given to the (studio) people, and I want to make that crystal clear."
Carpenter, a self-described entertainment executive, has been wooing Dixon for more than a year with promises of a $2.8 billion studio project on farmland southwest of the city.
But she has yet to open escrow on the purchase of 548 acres of city and county land for which she agreed to pay $50,000 an acre. And she has failed to come up with the $100,000 deposit the city has demanded to cover future staff costs.
"Do we have failures? Absolutely, life is full of them," Batchelor said in his first public comments acknowledging the project may not materialize. "Life is full of them, but we also have lots of success.
"This is one that didn't work out."
Dixon residents have been divided over revelations from a Bee investigation, published June 2, that found Carpenter has a 20-year history of writing bad checks, breaching contracts and failing to pay debts, liens and court judgments across California.
She has promoted studio projects throughout Northern California for 16 years, as well as one in South Carolina, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors. All the projects fizzled, leaving angry business associates and lawyers in her wake.
Dixon citizens and landowners have expressed concern as Carpenter announced delay after delay in the project and in the arrival of funding for her company, Morning View LLC, which uses a post office box address in Malibu.
Carpenter has insisted she can come up with the funding and has blamed her past financial problems on health issues and identity theft.
She denied a Bee report last week that a key player in her studio dream, Hollywood producer Howard Kazanjian, has pulled out because she failed to get the funding.
The Dixon Tribune quoted Carpenter as saying that information came from her computer being hacked and that Kazanjian, a producer of blockbusters such as "Raiders of the Lost Ark," remains a part of her team.
Kazanjian said in two separate emails sent directly to The Bee that he will not continue with the project.
At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, some residents demanded to know why the city had not done more to check Carpenter's background.
"Our representatives were clearly unqualified in making a meaningful analysis of the Morning View (proposal) ," said Mary Savage of Dixon, noting she had previously raised concerns publicly about Carpenter. "Now look at where we're at."
In the days since The Bee reported on Carpenter's extensive legal and financial problems, residents have weighed in through blogs about whether city officials were blinded by the allure of Hollywood stars walking the streets of Dixon.
Carpenter has been named in at least 27 judgments for nonpayment of debts, court records show. Since 1991, she has been hit with more than $1.4 million in court-ordered judgments and a lawsuit settlement, according to court documents reviewed by The Bee.
Jim Danhakl, a 54-year-old Lemoore man who agreed to sell Carpenter 69 acres inside the city limits, said he knew within 30 minutes of searching Carpenter on the Internet that there were questions about her ability to deliver.
"What I came back with from just my simple investigation was these people were not for real," Danhakl told the council.
Danhakl said the letter of intent to sell his property to Carpenter has expired, as have many of the others signed by other landowners.
He added that the city's fervent support of the proposal lent Carpenter credibility, although he emphasized that he did not want to criticize the council members or City Manager Jim Lindley.
City Councilman Dane Besneatte characterized the media reports as "inappropriate" and said, "I think it's time to quit picking on the city manager."
Lindley told The Bee in April that he had vetted Carpenter and "done as much due diligence as possible." On Tuesday night, he insisted the city was not responsible for checking into her personal financial difficulties.
Lindley said his handling of Carpenter's proposal was "pretty much Economic Development 101."
"We don't look into the personal histories of the developers ," he said. "What we do look at is we look at the project to see if it's viable, see if it comports with the law, see if it fits with the vision that the citizens of Dixon have.
"So, specifically, I do vet projects, I don't vet individuals. I know of no city that does that."
Call The Bee's Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091. Follow him on Twitter @stantonsam.