San Ramon residents found an unwelcome surprise in their mailboxes recently. It was a flier with a dire warning -- "State Approves New Casino in San Ramon" -- and an urgent call to action: "We Need to Stop This!"
It went on to say that the state's attorney general had already contacted the city attorney to get the facility opened quickly -- you know how attorneys generally love gambling emporiums -- and if residents didn't voice their objections to city leaders, the town would soon be inundated with the dregs of society.
OK, I'm paraphrasing.
This warning came courtesy of the Sacramento-based Council on Prosperity and Accountability, and urged recipients to visit the website www.keepsanramonsafe.com, where they could convey their concerns to city council members and find the number to call to volunteer their time or money for this noble cause.
No one was more stunned by the flyer than City Manager Greg Rogers, who guaranteed that no gambling is coming to the city: "There is no project. Nothing's been proposed. None of us are meeting with anybody. There's nobody coming in the door."
The confusion -- more accurately, misinformation -- can be traced to a May 9 letter authored by the state's Gambling Control Commission that spelled out the terms under which a gambling facility could be licensed in San Ramon.
The applicant, Lamar Wilkinson, must provide the commission with the business address (no location has been approved); a copy of the business license issued by San Ramon (none has been issued); signed approval by the San Ramon police (no approval has been granted); and an emergency evacuation plan (that will be difficult to provide for a building that doesn't exist).
Rogers says those renewal terms are an empty formality that can be traced to a license procured years ago for the former Outpost card room. ("It's been shut down for a long time," he said.) Only the paperwork lives on.
Of greater interest is why the Council on Prosperity and Accountability, a nonprofit activist group with no ties to San Ramon, tried to fan a cold ember into a raging flame.
"I'm thinking they're trying to hit people up for donations," Rogers said. "Maybe they figure this is a cause that will get people fired up."
When Rogers called the organization for an explanation, he was given the runaround and told a representative would call back. After I left messages with the organization and its president, William Cizmadia, I heard from a volunteer affiliated with the group who didn't want to be named. She said the well-intentioned warnings were solely for the benefit of San Ramon residents.
She couldn't explain why the fliers said the attorney general had contacted the city -- Rogers said that's not true -- and I couldn't ask Cizmadia because he didn't return my call. Maybe he was busy keeping San Ramon safe.
This tempest has made for some excitement in a community that rarely strays near controversy. The city's website now features a three-paragraph bulletin dismissing the casino claims. A recorded message on the city's phone line allays the concerns of residents who call with questions about the fliers they received.
Rogers is ready for the entire episode to go away.
"We have plenty of other real things to work on," he said.
If you'll pardon the expression, I'll wager that's true.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.