Many people in South San Ramon received an anonymous flyer declaring "Wal-Mart is a threat to our neighborhood." The flyer, printed on bright orange paper, warned residents south of Pine Valley Avenue that "Wal-Mart is in negotiations to build a 24-hour store at the Alcosta Mall Shopping Center at 9100 Alcosta Blvd." The flyer included an email address saying, "Please send any information or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org."
So the big question is, who is ganzfrank, or as most people assumed, including me, Frank Ganz. Yes I spent many hours searching the internet and Facebook for a person named Frank Ganz who lives in or near San Ramon. I found several Frank Ganzes in California, one as close as San Jose, but I came up with nothing in San Ramon.
I realized that email@example.com was a red herring. Ymail is a new email address for Yahoo email, and anyone with a Yahoo email address can create a ymail.com email, but why use the name ganzfrank?
One of the Frank Ganzes I found on Facebook is German, and I took German many years ago in college. So I looked up the word "Ganz" in German. It means "total or totally." The word "Frank" has several meanings in English, but the most common is "open or honest." So the person coming up with the name ganzfrank, is labeling herself as "totally honest."
Why do I refer to this person as "her?" because I believe I know who is hiding behind this "totally honest," label, and she isn't "ganz frank" at all. I have no smoking printer, but I found enough evidence in her own words to consider her my chief suspect.
I believe the person behind ganzfrank is a blogger on the San Ramon Patch named Renae Wilbur. Renae posted a lot of messages in reply to the story in the Patch on the flyer. While she insists she had nothing to do with the flyer and hasn't even seen one, she repeats in several message, "I was told specifically by a City Representative in May that a Wal Mart Grocery Store was in the works to go into the site at the old Le Asia Market. . . . This came from someone above the postion (sic) of Marc Fontes. I was told it was not community knowledge yet (i.e. keep it on the down low). I am beginning to think everything our City does is on the down low. This was not a rumor, (sic) this was directly from a City rep." (San Ramon Patch, 8/17/2011)
She refused to name the person she claims told her this because he ". . . would not appreciate his phone ringing off the hook by something that is probably not signed and sealed. . . . .and if I told you the name, you certainly wouldn't need 'the title'." (San Ramon Patch, 8/17/2011)
There are only two City employees above Marc Fontes, Director of Planning, Phil Wong, and City Manager, Greg Rogers. I asked Phil if he told anyone about a possible Wal-Mart, and he said no, he didn't know anything about it. So I asked Greg Rogers.
Rogers said when he was at the City's booth at the Art & Wind Festival last May many people came up to ask what was happening with the vacant store on Alcosta. He said a lot of names were thrown around including Wal-Mart, which now has a "line" of grocery-only stores.
Renae Wilber was a part time City employee at that time. She worked in the City's information booth at the Art and Wind Festival. Greg recalled Renae being in the booth, but he said he didn't speak directly to her about Wal-Mart or say that Wal-Mart was in negotiations for the store.
The flyer generated an avalanche of phones ringing off the hook at City Hall. City Manager Rogers wrote a reply to all of the residents who had emailed or phoned Mayor Wilson and Councilwoman Carol Rowley (their phone numbers and emails were on the flyer) that "The San Ramon City staff has not been in contact with any Wal-Mart representatives concerning the construction of a Wal-Mart store."
At this point Renae admitted in the Patch that she heard about the Wal-Mart while working in the City booth at the Art and Wind Festival with Greg Rogers. "For whatever reason, he has changed his stance on the Walmart and I think San Ramon probably has bigger worries at this time than what might, could, should, shouldn't happen at that site." San Ramon Patch (8/22/2011).
So she still insists, or believes, that Rogers had a "stance on the Walmart." Rogers said he never told anyone that the City was in negotiations with Wal-Mart, because it wasn't, and that Renae probably overheard someone else asking about it.
The City actually has no authority to choose who or what goes into that building. The building is on a long-term lease by the Kroger supermarket chain which owns the Ralphs stores. Kroger's local leasing agent is John Cumbelich & Associates in Walnut Creek. Cumbelich and Kroger will negotiate with any prospective grocery business to sublease the building. This means if Wal-Mart wants to put a grocery store into that space, and the Walmart Company has several grocery business models, as long as the store is within the approved use and the size or footprint of the building isn't changed, the City cannot keep it out.
The City can set limits on signage, height, colors, parking, and other factors on how the store is operated, but unless the applicant wants to enlarge the building or change the kind of store, the City cannot stop it.
So a Neighborhood Walmart Grocery could go into that space, but not a full-sized Wal-Mart, which was the implication in the flyer. Any modifications to the existing use would have to go through several Public Hearings with the Planning Commission and the City Council first.
Rogers believes the worst thing for the City would be for the store to remain empty. The residents in that area shouldn't have to drive two or three miles for groceries. Rogers also wants everyone to know he's never hunted bears, he wouldn't hunt bears, and he likes bears, but he would like to see Alaska.
Renae says she doesn't make assumptions that aren't true, but she assumed that Greg Rogers told her the City was in negotiations with Wal-Mart, which was not true. I try not to make assumptions either. If my assumption here is wrong I apologize to Renae Wilber, but every quote here is taken from her messages posted on the San Ramon Patch.
Even if she did not write or distribute the flyer, she appears to be the source of the original rumor. If she told other people what she believed Greg Rogers told her, one of them is probably ganzfrank or knows who is.