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Thousands Expected in Town For This Weekend’s Festival
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 08:51
Chamber Executive Director Bill Mulgrew with staff members Ashley Strasburg, at left, and Allie Field, go over the one hundred and one last-minute details for this weekend’s 42nd Annual Fall Festival. They could still use about two dozen additional volunteers. If you can help out, call the Chamber at 510-537-5300.

By Linda Sandsmark


Old favorites and new surprises are in store for visitors to Castro Valley’s 2014 Fall Festival this weekend.

Hosted by the Castro Valley/Eden Area Chamber of Commerce, the Festival will return to its previous location on Castro Valley Boulevard, between Redwood Road and Santa Maria Ave., from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  on both Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 13-14. Admission is free.

The Boulevard will be closed to traffic from 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday evening. After two years of Streetscape work, which caused the street fair to relocate near the library, merchants wanted it moved back downtown.

“Everybody is happy that it’s back on the Boulevard,” says Ashley Strasburg, office manager at the Chamber.

The Fall Festival itself will be focused more on arts and crafts, rather than mass-produced items. About 200 booths will be set up.

“Another new trend this year will be craft beers, which are more in tune with that arts and crafts focus,” says Chamber Executive Director Bill Mulgrew. “That’s what everybody has asked for.”

Castro Valley’s Classic Car Show will be located nearby, at the BART station on Norbridge Ave. It will be held Saturday only, adjacent to the Farmer’s Market.

This year’s car show will be bigger than ever, featuring 270 classic vehicles. It is sponsored by Castro Valley Moose Lodge 1491 and organized by Ken Carbone of Dolphin Graphics.

For the children there will be a “bungee” ride, ponies for young cowboys and cowgirls, and a surprise country-fair-style ride.

Two stages will be open. One will be a community stage for kids and local acts. The other will be a grandstand for music only. Musical acts include In Full Swing, a 17-piece big band, country music singer Andy Joe Stewart, a Joan Jett tribute band, and a local group called Giant Garage Spiders. Closing the festival on Sunday is a British rock/Beatles tribute band called the Landbirds.

“We are really excited to showcase our beautiful downtown and merchants are looking forward to increased foot traffic,” says Mulgrew.


Popular Winery May Close Due to Little-Known Law
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 11:58
Some 400 people – some from as far away as Los Angeles –  visited Wentworth Winery over the three-day weekend to take advantage of the sale prices. Above, Bill Smyth at left and Peter Goodwin with a group of guests and customers on Labor Day. Jill Smyth is just to the right of the man with the raised glass.

By Amy Sylvestri



A pair of Castro Valley business owners say they will have to close the doors of their boutique winery after being hit with a heavy fine by the Department of Labor for a violation they had no idea existed.

Bill and Jill Smyth own the Westover Winery at 34329 Palomares Road. They say that the Department of Labor hit them with a fine of $100,000 for using volunteers to help run their business.

Bill Smyth says the winery isn’t really a money-maker, but rather a labor of love. His family has been involved in the wine business since 1881 when his great-great aunt made wine.

“We don’t really have a workforce to speak of,” said Smyth. “The winery is a place of education, a place where we have fun. We don’t sell our product in stores or restaurants. It’s not this big operation, we’re a tiny little winery.”

So Smyth said that they sometimes had friends volunteer to serve and sell wine to visitors. This is illegal, according to labor laws, though not uncommon at all among small businesses of any sort.

When the Department of Labor learned of the operation, officials came to the winery, scaring away visitors and making threats, Smyth said.

“In July, they showed up without warning and chased away our customers,” said Smyth.

Peter Milton of the Department of Labor said that the entity is in an ongoing discussion with Westover and he wasn’t familiar with the specifics of the case and didn’t know if warnings had been issued prior to the large fine.

Milton said he hoped the situation could be resolved without negatively impacting the winery and that the next hearing in the case is set for next Wednesday.

Smyth said that he had received no warning and would’ve appreciated a cease-and-desist notice prior to the fine, which he says will make him close his doors.

“This is going to force us out of business,” said Smyth. “I feel like this is a rule nobody knows about. A lot of small businesses get help from volunteers. This is something that is going to wreak havoc in the whole wine region.”

Smyth says he is currently working with the San Francisco-based Wine Institute of California to explore his options. He is also reaching out to his representatives in the state Senate and Assembly.

However, he thinks that the fine will ultimately mean that Westover’s days are numbered – they’ll likely close by the end of the year, he says.

For now, Smyth is asking the public to come by and purchase wine to support their efforts and sign a petition asking for the clarification of volunteer policies. Smyth added that he thinks that he won’t be able to have a harvest or crush of his current vines for this year.

“We are trying to get this law changed,” said Smyth. “Wineries depend on volunteers. So do lots of businesses, think of the people volunteering in booths at the Farmer’s Market. Even family members can’t volunteer. It’s not just our small business, it’s every small business.”

Castro Valley Triplets’ New Adventure: Kindergarten!
Wednesday, 27 August 2014 10:29
This set of triplets started Kindergarten at Independent Elementary School yesterday. Parents Eric and Taranda Irving stand behind Taray, Cire’, and Eric Jr. (l. to r.). The children, ready with their backpacks in front of their Five Canyons home, will be  in three different classrooms.

By Linda Sandsmark



Most parents deal with separation anxiety when their children start school, but for one Castro Valley family the separation goes three ways.

Eric and Taranda Irving are sending their five-year-old triplets off to Kindergarten, which will be a big step for the close siblings.

“Our trio is going solo,” says Taranda. “They were born together, shared a crib as newborns, played, learned and grew together. Now we are getting them accustomed to being separate, as they are entering three different Kindergarten classes.”

Dad Eric adds that he hopes starting school in separate classrooms will help the children to develop their individuality.

Boys Eric Jr. and Taray (named after Taranda) and their sister Ciré (which is Eric spelled backwards) are heading to Independent Elementary School, and they’re already excited about what they’ve seen there.

“I like the toys,” says Eric Jr.

“I like my new teacher and classroom,” says Taray.

“I like everything,” says Ciré.

This engaging trio is the picture of health and energy. However, as is often the case with multiple births, their early days were a bit more difficult. Taray weighed 3.6 pounds, Eric Jr. 3.15 pounds, and Ciré 3.16 pounds at birth.

They spent their first six weeks in the hospital, but luckily were free of any major health conditions.

The family, which includes a 22-year-old brother and a 20-year-old cousin, resides in Five Canyons.

Since they were two years old the triplets have attended Bright World Preschool in Castro Valley, and the family is active in the Revelation Christian Fellowship church in San Leandro.

Taranda’s mother, Aretha Barrow, has been on hand to help since the children were born. The family credits this support system with helping them make it thus far.

Now as the triplets launch out into the bigger world, their parents look forward to the beginning of this next phase of life.

“We’re really interested to watch them start branching out, and excited to see how they’ll do on their own,” says Taranda.

Longtime Castro Valley Charity To Close at the End of August
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 12:32

The Michael Guidotti Center on Almeda Street in Castro Valley, headquarters for CARH, Inc. which will cease operations next week.

By Fred Zehnder




A noted Castro Valley one-of-a-kind charity that has served thousands of handicapped people since 1972 will close its doors at the end of next week.

CARH, Inc. announced that it is shutting down its recycled clothing operation at its one-acre complex on Almeda Street next Friday, Aug. 29, a victim of mounting – and often aggressive – competition.

Executive Director Cathy Giouzelis told the Forum that, over the past couple of years, 18 or 19 for-profit businesses had sprung up in Castro Valley, collecting clothes and household items to be sold in Third World countries. Finally, CARH was no longer able to compete.

Well-known for its mailed, brightly-colored cards for use in identifying curbside clothing donations, CARH had seen both a decrease in those donations and an increase in thefts of items that were left on sidewalks for pick up.

Last week, Giouzelis had the sad task of laying off six of her staff members, retaining only one to help close down the operation. CARH’s current 1,500 clients will now have to seek assistance from other agencies.

In a letter of thanks to CARH’s donors and supporters, Giouzelis said the organization “has struggled for the last few years to sustain our household recycling program, but times have changed. As difficult as this is, it is time for CARH to cease its used clothing and household items collection efforts ... with the hope that we come back at a later date.”

The nonprofit CARH (an acronym for Care, Advancement, Respect and Hope) was started by Leo Guidotti and his wife Barbara after the birth of their special-needs child 42 years ago.

Concerned about the loneliness their son Michael would almost certainly face without his own community, they began an organization that eventually served thousands of clients who enjoyed a social calendar that included dances, picnics, movies and summer camps.

CARH also provided financial assistance for such basic needs as wheelchairs, eyeglasses and special beds.

The Michael Guidotti Center is now for sale.


Castro Valley Long-Distance Hitchhiker Arrives in Congo
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 17:40
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Tyrel Bernardini arrives at the Equator, where half a dozen inquisitive Congolese children gathered to see what was so interesting.


On a sunny morning in April, a 25-year-old Castro Valley man with backpack in tow, stepped onto an on-ramp to I-580 to thumb a ride. Not to San Francisco or Oakland. No, Tyrel Bernardini’s destination was 7,000 miles away on the other side of the world.

A member of the Class of 2006 at Castro Valley High School, Bernardini was heading for the politically-unstable Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa.

He had graduated last fall from Humboldt State University with a major in zoology and a minor in wildlife management and wanted to share his knowledge with Africans in exchange for learning more about their culture.

It was a daunting plan to be sure. Just the first leg of his trip – from Castro Valley to the East Coast – would mean weeks of catching rides across the country.

No stranger to using his legs, Bernardini had begun running around Lake Chabot and jogging through the trails of the East Bay Regional Park system at age 14. The outdoors became as much of a home to him as the Castro Valley home he shares with his grandmother.

His thirst for knowledge about nature and the environment led him to become a volunteer at Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward and the Oakland Zoo where he first had the opportunity to meet Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.

Before this year, he has already hitchhiked more than 12,000 miles to such destinations as Peru and Alaska.

While acknowledging it isn’t the safest means of travel, hitching rides is a way of meeting people from all walks of life, he says, and a way to travel to distant places without leaving his own carbon footprint on the environment.

In a unique way of financing his venture to Africa, Bernardini has received backing from both friends’ and strangers’ donations through the non-governmental on-line organization Beacon. In return, he provides regular Internet postings of his progress.

He arrived in Miami in June, but most of the sailing boats he’d hope to catch had left  because of the hurricane season. So he joined the crew of a catamaran to New York where prospects of a trans-Atlantic ship ride were more favorable.

After three months of travel by hitchhiking and boat, Bernardini made it to Morocco on the north coast of Africa. From there he took his only plane flight to Rwanda.

Then, last week, he made his way to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center, “GRACE,” in the eastern part of Congo.

“I am their first ever volunteer and will be aiding with photography, film, educational programs, enclosure design, and much more,” Bernardini told the Forum in an email. “I am very excited to be here. So far, the only item I have had stolen (on the ferry from Algeciras, Spain to Tangier, Morocco) was my toothbrush and thermos. Ha. Life goes on.”

Beyond this trip to Africa, Bernardini says he doesn’t know where his road of life will lead. Stay tuned.

Making Old Furniture Look Like New
Thursday, 07 August 2014 07:28
Instructor John Stallknecht uses golf tees to hold caning in place as he works to restore an old chair. Watching in the background is Larry Bendowski, who is restoring an old picture frame.

By Linda Sandsmark



If you have a piece of wood furniture that’s seen better days, check out the most economical class in town. For just $1 per drop-in session, you just may be able to restore that item to its original state.

“Don’t throw it away, restore it instead. That’s our motto up here,” says instructor John Stallknecht.

Stallknecht has been teaching “Refinish, Restore and Recane Antique Furniture” techniques for 12 years at the Kenneth C. Aitken Community Center.  He is a true artist who can show you how to revive a piece of furniture for very little money, if you’re willing to put in the time.

As an example, Stallknecht is working on a child’s chair that he found  in  “a scrap heap somewhere.”  If the chair were taken in for professional re-caning (creating new woven seats) the charge could be $250.

However, the materials to replace the caning only cost about $10. The cane itself is attached in seven steps, and is held in place with golf tees as the work progresses. It may take six to eight weeks in Stallknecht’s class (once a week, Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon)  to completely replace the seat.

Caning is something of a lost art, and locally only one store in Berkeley does it. Both caning and refinishing are time-consuming processes, but well-worth it if one is willing to expend the effort.

“If you find furniture at the curb, or have stains on tables, and don’t want to throw it away, yes, we can work on that here. I like to call it re-purposing furniture,” says  Stallknecht. “We’ve even put veneer that’s missing or loose back on furniture. We can patch holes with wood patch and then sand it smooth. It’s not difficult. It’s just time consuming.”

Though the participants arrive with pieces they are working on – hoping to beautify and eventually use them – they stay for the fun.

“I enjoy it. It’s something different and it’s a good social outlet,” says Mike Brodie, who is stripping white paint off a desk that his wife got at Bolt’s End Fabrics when the store went out of business. “And who would have known there was all this beautiful wood underneath this paint if I hadn’t worked on it?”

Class members can work indoors, or outdoors during nice weather. A variety of items in various stages of restoration can be seen in progress, including picture frames, a headboard and footboard, chairs and tables. One student completely re-caned a Civil War-era wheelchair.

“If you have stuff that you don’t know how to fix or what to do with it, come on out,” says Stallknecht. “You will walk out of here with something beautiful.  The class is open to anyone – you don’t have to be a senior.”

“Refinish, Restore and Recane Antique Furniture” classes are held Mondays from 9 to noon at Kenneth C. Aitken Community Center, 17800 Redwood Rd. Cost is $1 per session. Call 881-6738 or see



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