By Barry Eberling
DIXON — Dixon’s self-image is depicted in the city seal – vast stretches of farmland in front of a small town, a semirural scene without a hint of Hollywood.
That could change if Morning View LCC is able to pull off its attempt to build a film studio on the south side of town. Dixon, known as the “Dairy City” a century ago, could become the “Movie City.”
For months, Morning View has been trying to get options on land to build a studio it says will generate 1,000 jobs. It needed at least 300 acres. At last Tuesday’s City Council meeting during public comments, studio CEO Carissa Carpenter gave the latest news.
“We did it,” she said. “We got the 300 acres. It is time for Morning View to move forward with the blessings of the city and now the county.”
As it stood at midweek, Morning View had reached agreements with property owners that will allow it to buy 219 acres in southern Dixon and 108 acres on three nearby parcels in the rural county. The studio originally had hoped to have the 300 acres contiguous.
Carpenter said the studio could open its doors in January 2015.
“We’re socially responsible,” Carpenter told the council. “We’re doing family films. We want to be completely green, as best we can. We want to be part of the community. We’re not going to build big, ugly fences and say we’re outside.”
Council members responded with positive comments.
“I want to say I’m very excited to have this project here in Dixon,” City Councilman Jerry Castanon said. “A project of this magnitude is unbelievable, especially in this part of Solano County.”
It’s the type of project that usually goes to such places as San Francisco, he said.
But Tuesday’s announcement marked only another step in the quest to make the studio a reality. Mayor Jack Batchelor Jr. said Wednesday that environmental studies must be done and public hearings held.
“Now the work begins,” Batchelor said.
Carpenter told the council it has taken Morning View 14 years to get to this point.
The group made a previous attempt to build a Solano County studio. In December 2010, Carpenter appeared before the Vallejo City Council, saying she was excited to work with Vallejo on establishing Mare Island Studios. Talks with the city eventually broke off.
In October 2011, Carpenter sent a letter to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, expressing interest in establishing a 1.2-million-square-foot film and television studio at the Crows Landing business park.
Instead, Carpenter and Morning View LCC approached Dixon a few months later. Last September, the Dixon City Council, at Morning View’s request, approved a letter stating the city’s support for a studio on 300 to 800 acres.
“The city is committed to assisting Morning View in any way possible to expeditiously move the project forward,” the letter said.
Requests for such letters are common for large projects, City Manager Jim Lindley told the council. It reassures the investors and financiers that the city will not unduly inhibit the project.
The three parcels outside Dixon’s city limits are in the rural county and zoned for farming. Solano County’s voter-approved Orderly Growth Initiative, designed in part to protect agriculture, prevents urban development in such areas.
Proposals to develop prime farmland in this area would, under the Orderly Growth Initiative, have to win approval from county voters, county Planning Manager Mike Yankovich said.
Batchelor talked of Dixon annexing the land and said the city helps mitigate for lost farmland.
But the three properties are also outside of Dixon’s sphere of influence for future annexations. The city could ask the county Local Agency Formation Commission to change the sphere of influence after holding public hearings.
The other option would be for Morning View to reach agreements to buy land next to the 219 acres in city limits, something it had been unable to accomplish as of midweek.
— Reach Barry Eberling at firstname.lastname@example.org