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A New Day – and a New Name For Castro Valley’s Golf Course
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 11:59
NOT FOR LONG: New signs will be put up soon after the 130-acre Willow Park Golf Course in Castro Valley was renamed Redwood Canyon Public Golf Course last week.

Directors of the East Bay Regional Park District voted unanimously last week to rename the golf course at Lake Chabot Regional Park in Castro Valley. The former Willow Park Golf Course is now the Redwood Canyon Public Golf Course.

“The community has been looking forward to this,” said Board member Dennis Waespi of Castro Valley, whose district includes the picturesque 130-acre golf course near Lake Chabot. “It’s not the end of the process, but it’s a very good start. We’re looking forward to a bright future for the golf course and event center in Castro Valley.”

The name change was the result of a settlement agreement between the Park District and the former operators of Willow Park, whose 50-year lease expired last November. As part of the settlement, the District agreed to rename the course by April 1.

District staff and board members considered several names but chose Redwood Canyon because the course lies at the southern end of Redwood Canyon, which was once home to thousands of old-growth redwood trees before they were logged in the 1800s. Large, lush forests of second-growth redwoods now thrive in the northern end of the 10-mile canyon.

The Park District has planted dozens of redwoods in the golf course area and intends to plant more, in an effort to bring the majestic trees back to the Castro Valley hills. One of the Bay Area’s most scenic courses, Redwood Canyon is already home to oaks, willows and a vibrant array of wildlife. San Leandro Creek runs through the middle of the course.In addition to the course, Redwood Canyon includes a pro shop, bar and restaurant, and event center. Julie Ferrantino has returned as the Food and Beverage Manager.

The Park District expects to make numerous upgrades at the facility over the next year, including replacing the roof at the clubhouse, repairing the sewer system, renovating the bathrooms, and repaving the driveway and parking lot, among other projects.

Cozy Shop Offers Unusual Plants That Need Little Water
Thursday, 19 March 2015 14:16

031815Darya and Paolo Ferrer opened a boutique succulent plant shop last year on Center Street. Darya is a 2009 Castro Valley High grad.



A boutique succulent plant shop opened by a Castro Valley High grad and her husband has brought a lovely little oasis to Center Street. The shop, called Succiko, is a great place to find drought-resistant plants in a cozy setting.

“Plants are our passion. I do the designing and my husband, Paolo, is knowledgeable about the plants and their care,” says Darya (nee Zherebnenkova) Ferrer, who graduated from Castro Valley High in 2009. “I have an eye for design and he has the technical expertise.”

Succiko (sah-chee-koh) means cacti-composition, and it also sounds much like “sachiko” which means ‘happy child’ in Japanese. The shop’s website says the Ferrers hope to bring out the happy child in guests, and encourage people to unplug from stress. Ultimately the couple would like to expand to an indoor-outdoor setting with a coffee bar.

For now, Succiko sells a variety of plants and succulents, potting materials, vessels and accessories. They host labs to show people how to plant and care for succulents, and assist customers as they make their own  plant compositions.

Darya and Paolo met at Chabot College, and married in 2011. While Paolo was finishing his bachelor’s degree at Cal Berkeley, he started collecting and studying succulents as a way to unwind.

“My father-in-law joked that I had so many succulents I could open a shop,” says Paolo.fter graduating with a public health pre-med major in 2013, Paulo did a business internship and decided running a nursery actually was the best path for him.

The couple got the keys to the store on Labor Day 2014. The location previously housed a candy shop, and the Ferrers and their friends stripped the floors, hung trendy lighting, re-did the interior.

Darya, who is the creative side of the duo, approaches the business from a design aspect. From her perspective, no space is complete without plants. She designs terrariums in many sizes, including hanging and tabletop “air plants.”

“We have a goal to make this a peaceful space that harmonizes both coffee and plants,” says Darya. “We’re brainstorming a lot of ideas now, trying to be a green business that advocates for the local economy with locally-sourced goods.”

The plants, vessels and other materials at the shop are all of local origin.  (Customers are also welcome to bring in their own pottery to work with.) Darya is bringing crystal jewelry to the shop, and is hoping to offer  coffee through the Sightglass coffee company of San Francisco. The coffee machines are pricey, so they may try a “Kickstarter” campaign to attract supporters.

Succiko will soon be hosting workshops on creating succulent gardens and terrariums. Paolo will be a featured speaker on succulents at Castro Valley library in September.

The shop is located on Center Street (near Edwards Lane) next to  Pizza Express, which works out well because the ovens keep the plants warm at night. A dog grooming shop nearby has brought in a surprising number of customers as well.

“We knew Castro Valley would be a perfect location. It’s a safe community,” says Darya.

Succiko’s address is 19577 Center St., Castro Valley. For more information, visit, check Instagram and Facebook, or call  510-825-9635.

Visiting Neigh-Sayer Arrives on CV Doorstep
Thursday, 12 March 2015 07:26
Cara Kulas of Hayward Animal Control (left) and Lisa Robinson of Castro Valley stand with horse “Koa,” who was found on the Robinson family’s Castro Valley driveway February 24.

By Linda Sandsmark



On February 24 at 4 a.m., Proctor Road resident Lisa Robinson awoke  to find a horse standing in her front yard.

“I was asleep and my husband called me as he left for work,” says Robinson. “He said, ‘Babe, you better get up because there’s a horse on our driveway.’  I thought he was joking so I hung up on him.  But he kept calling back, so I finally went out to see. Sure enough, there it was.”

At first the Robinsons thought the horse had gotten loose from a 500-acre pasture nearby. But Lisa also noticed that the horse wasn’t sweaty, like it would be if it had been running. The police and animal control officers came out to investigate, but no “missing horse” reports had been filed.

“He’s a very nice horse, but he may have just been dumped,” says Robinson. “I used to work at a race track and rescued animals there. I even had a ‘rescue cow’ at my house for three months. So maybe somebody knew of me and knew I’d take care of him.”

In fact, Robinson is manager of Alta Vista Equestrian Center in Hayward, which is high in the hills above Mission Boulevard.

So when confronted with a strange horse in her yard, Robinson just  put a rope around his neck, gave him some water, fed him some hay, and called for a trailer to take him to Alta Vista.

Now called ‘Koa,” the horse has been at Alta Vista ever since, awaiting either his owner or adoption.

“Three-fourths of the animals in the barn there are rescues,” says Robinson.

Koa is a thoroughbred, approximately two and a half years old. When he arrived he was wearing special shoes (although they were in poor condition)  which are generally worn at a race track.

One man did call Hayward Animal Control to say he thought Koa was his, but when he heard he’d be responsible for reimbursing the equestrian center for Koa’s board during the last few weeks, he balked.

Hayward Animal Control officer Cara Kulas has taken an interest in Koa, and is hoping for a positive outcome. She has some advice for animal owners.

“Be responsible. Keep your horses confined, and check your fence line. If this horse hadn’t found Lisa, it could have been an ugly situation for him,” says Kulas.

Anyone with information on Koa’s owner is asked to call Lisa Robinson at 510-760-8909. If his owner is not located, Robinson would also be happy to speak to persons who might wish to adopt him, or who would like to donate to a non-profit organization she has set up to support rescued animals like Koa.

HARD Gets Public’s Take On CV’s Huge, New Park
Thursday, 05 March 2015 06:51
View of a portion of the 24-acre Castro Valley park site from Sydney Circle.

By Amy Sylvestri


What will become Castro Valley’s newest and largest park brought a standing-room-only crowd out to the Community Center last Thursday evening to have their say on the project.

The park site, bordered by Sydney Way, Stanton Ave., Carlton Ave. and Jennifer Drive, has been sitting idle for years after plans to build  a filtration plant on the location by East Bay Municipal Utilities District were abandoned.

It was the subject of the “Measure Q” ballot measure in 2006, which would have authorized its purchase for $15.5 million, but the bitterly-debated measure fell short of the needed 2/3 approval vote.

Then, in late 2013, after plans for a subdivision on the land fell through, HARD wound up buying it for what was considered a bargain  price of $5.6 million.

At last week’s meeting, Jeff Ferber from the architectural firm RRM Design Group told the crowd that the project is in the very earliest stages of development. He heard from those in attendance about various amenities they’d like to see in the park as well as some concerns about the development.

A number of those on hand were from the Castro Valley Soccer Club and Little League. They requested lighted soccer fields and baseball diamonds, many saying that they often had to go out of town to play because of lack of field space in town.

Another speaker said that bathrooms should be installed. He said that Proctor Park doesn’t have any facilities and that people end up relieving themselves in the bushes rather than leaving the park.

Others asked for a fenced-in off-leash dog park, synthetic grass, archery facilities, a snack bar, a running track, playground equipment, a swimming pool, and even goats to graze on the grass to maintain the landscaping.

Ferber said that all the ideas are being considered as the architects hired by HARD go through the early planning stages.

“We have no preconceived ideas about how we’ll make this master plan,” said Ferber. “What we can promise is that everyone has a chance to be heard and the HARD members will have a broad spectrum of ideas to choose from.”

One man who lives near the property said he didn’t think there should be a park there at all, citing concerns about parking, traffic, and upkeep. He said the money for the project should be spent on existing parks.

“I don’t think we need another park,” he said. “Keep it (the land) as it is. I don’t want everybody from all the other cities walking through our yards.”

The next step will be to create drawings of the various features, which will go to the public and the HARD board before being approved. That will be followed by a ground-breaking some time down the line.

“When we design, the character of the project and what’s important all come from the community,” said Ferber.

‘Vape’ Store to Get Commendation From Supervisor Miley, Chamber
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 09:45
Ben Jewell, owner of Ready, Set, Vape, fills an atomizer in his Castro Valley Boulevard shop.
By Amy Sylvestri

At noon today, Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley is set to offer a commendation to Castro Valley business Ready Set Vape – a store that sells electronic cigarettes, vaporizers, the “juices” that are used in the devices, and other accessories.

The commendation will be accompanied by a ceremony conducted by the Castro Valley/ Eden Area Chamber of Commerce and a reception that’s open to the public.

Ready Set Vape opened over a year ago and has been successful at its location at 3024 Castro Valley Boulevard. Yelp reviews are nearly all “five stars” and boast people from all over the Bay Area lauding the store and its products and talking about coming to Castro Valley from miles away just to visit the shop.

Ready Set Vape owner Ben Jewell says that electronic cigarettes are a great help to people trying to quit smoking traditional cigarettes. Miley says that he agrees and that the business is an asset to the community.

But critics say that e-cigarettes are potentially just as dangerous as traditional tobacco products and need to be more closely regulated.

Miley, however, takes issue with equating e-cigarettes with regular smoking.

“It’s an erroneous road to travel, to lump (e-cigarettes) with tobacco,” said Miley. “I don’t want to demonize vaporizing because what they are trying to do is admirable. We need to reevaluate these shops on their own merits, not the same way we regulate tobacco. My position is, let’s not categorize this as a tobacco product.”

Miley’s proclamation for Ready Set Vape comes just a few weeks after the California Department of Public Health issued a warning about the toxicity of electronic cigarettes. And the American Lung Association says that e-cigarettes and vaporizing are too untested to support as smoking cessation aides.

Serena Chen, policy director for the American Lung Association, says she personally knows people who have stopped smoking with the help of electronic cigarettes, but she also says so much is unknown about them that she cannot stand by them as a way to kick the habit.

“There is just not enough independent research out there,” said Chen.

Chen said she’s seen studies funded by e-cig advocates that say they help quitting. But she’s also seen opposing studies by other groups that say the electronic cigarettes could encourage kids to pick up smoking under the guise of being less harmful than regular cigarettes and because they come in kid-friendly flavors like lemonade, vanilla, and strawberry.

“There is the troubling thought that they could make smoking glamorous again,” said Chen. “I do believe it has helped some people quit, but there is the major problem that e-cigarettes are totally unregulated.

“Besides the smoking issue, the ‘juices’ that are used (vaporized) in the devices are unregulated. Should people be inhaling these substances we know so little about? It’s Supervisor Miley’s business if he wants to praise a business that is doing well, we just have our concerns. It’s unfortunate.”

Chen went on to say that many cities in Alameda County have started establishing ordinances restricting e-cigarettes and the businesses that sell them, but that unincorporated areas like Castro Valley have less regulation.

Miley acknowledged that his lauding of Ready Set Vape could be controversial, but said that vaporizing and e-cigarettes will be an area where a lot of discussion is happening in the future, and that he supports Ready Set Vape as a successful local business.

“This is a national debate,” said Miley. “Let’s look at it cautiously and meticulously because I don’t think there is enough evidence on either side at the moment to make a final decision.”

Ready Set Vape owner Jewell says that he has had a tremendous amount of positive feedback from the community and that his product helps a lot of people.

The state Public Health Department warning against e-cigarettes was issued in January by Dr. Ronald Chapman, who stepped down from his position as director just days later amidst a controversy for failing to regulate nursing home complaints.

Jewell said that Chapman’s final shot at e-cigarettes could have been his way of diverting controversy and saving face even as he quit.

Regardless of Chapman’s intent with the warning, Jewell maintains he has only well-meaning intent for his business.

“There is a lot of fear-mongering about e-cigarettes, but if you look at the data and science, people are being helped,” said Jewell. “We don’t market as being health-based, but yes, we do play a part in harm reduction. From dealing with the public, I know for a fact I help people quit.”

After 14 Years On-the-Go, Castro Valley’s Chief Problem-Solver Heads for Retirement
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 14:24
Bob Swanson at his backyard pool, where he plans to spend a lot more time after March 6.
By Linda Sandsmark


Bob Swanson, who has dedicated most of his adult life to the citizens of Castro Valley, is ready for a long “staycation.”

When he retires next month, the constituent liaison for county Supervisor Nate Miley is simply planning to relax by the pool at his Castro Valley home.

“When most people retire, they pack up and travel. I was in the navy and traveled  all over the world. I’ve had enough traveling,” says Swanson, 68. “Of all the places I’ve been, Castro Valley is about the nicest place in the world. The climate is just about perfect. I was raised in Chicago, and when I got here I said to myself, ‘Oh man, this is like a dream. It’s like the best place on the whole planet’.”

During his 14-year tenure at the supervisor’s district office on Redwood Road, Swanson has assisted residents on land use, public works and affordable housing issues for Alameda County District 4 which includes Castro Valley, Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview, Pleasanton and parts of Oakland. He helped write the county’s medical marijuana ordinance and secured start-up funds for the Ashland Free Clinic.

wanson joined up with Miley during the 2000 election cycle. Miley opposed a controversial Highway 238 bypass through Castro Valley, so Swanson supported him by convincing 80 residents of Grove Way to put Miley’s campaign signs in their front yards.

An impressive 74 per cent of Swanson’s precinct turned out to vote, and Miley was elected. The next year Swanson went to work for Miley – 20 hours a week in the Castro Valley office. At first he wasn’t sure he wanted the job.

“I said I’d give it a try, and if I liked it I’d stay, if I didn’t I’d quit, and if I did anything they didn’t like they could fire me,” recalls Swanson.

That never happened. In fact, over the years the job has evolved to the point where Swanson had to be “ready to jump 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Now he’s ready to trade that stress for the “bed and breakfast” setting he and his wife Donna have created at home.

“There are a lot of things I’m still interested in here,” he says.  “I’ll be around.”

Swanson had always been a renter until age 65, when he and Donna bought a house with a 20-by-40-foot pool. They went all in for home-ownership, adding solar panels to reduce their electric bills. However,  Swanson says he’s never been able to stay home and enjoy it. Since the 2008 recession, county issues have taken up more and more of his time.

“The recession, the Castro Valley Streetscape and Lewelling Streetscape all happened at once and all were stressors. Castro Valley never had commercial vacancies before the recession, and suddenly a number of businesses closed up. We weren’t used to that here,” says Swanson. “I’m glad that things are better now. Businesses are starting to come back and people are mellowing out.”

Swanson moved to Castro Valley in 1973. In the 1980s he founded the Caltrans Tenant’s Association, which represented renters in 500 local units – homes the state had acquired, but never demolished, when the Highway 238 bypass plan stalled. The tenant’s association helped ward off rent hikes and evictions for hundreds of residents.

Prior to his arrival in Castro Valley Swanson spent four years in the U. S. Navy, achieving the rank of Yeoman, Petty Officer 3rd Class. His  military travels took him to Hawaii, Vietnam, Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey and Malta. He decided to stay in the Bay Area after being stationed at Alameda Naval Air Station.

Following his military service, Swanson earned an A.A. from Chabot College and a B.A. in both Psychology and India Studies from Sonoma State. After further study in India, he became a meditation instructor and volunteered on a myriad of civic and advocacy groups in the East Bay.

He was also instrumental in establishing Castro Valley Farmer’s Market, which his wife managed for the first two years.

A more extensive list of accomplishments, along with photos of Swanson with dozens of luminaries, may be seen on his Naval biography website,





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