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Open Homes • 09-25-14

CV’s Larry Udell, the Man Behind Many of the World’s Big Ventures
Friday, 26 September 2014 08:11
Larry Udell is the cover story in the current issue of “Inventors Digest” magazine

By Fred Zehnder


It’s been quite a ride for patent guru Larry Udell of Castro Valley. And at age 83, he isn’t slowing down a bit.

You might find him lecturing to a class at U.C.  Davis today, consulting with a Fortune 500 company in Silicon Valley tomorrow, and flying off to a meeting of innovators in New York City next week.

Udell, whose picture is on the cover of the current issue of the national  “Inventors Digest” magazine, has lived here for the past 50 years. But even his closest neighbors probably aren’t aware of the role he has played in the successes of many of the world’s most notable ventures during the past half century.

Such giants as Samsung, HP and Applied Materials have relied on Udell’s know-how in obtaining patents, licenses and capital for everything from toys and aerospace technologies to medical products and solar energy.

“I’m not an expert on anything,” he’s quick to say. “But I know a little bit about a lot of things.” And he has recuited a cadre of some 50 experts around the globe who can supply him with information on virtually any topic.

Born in Chicago, Udell gained an early interest in how things work from his inventor father who worked for the Atomic Energy Commission at White Sands, New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was developed.

In the early 1960s, Udell began lecturing about inventors and their contributions to the world economy.

Later, he became a professor of entrepreneurship at Cal State University where he created the California Invention Center (CIC) while working closely with U.C. Berkeley, Stanford and other schools.

Today, the CIC office in downtown San Francisco is one of the most important free resource centers for inventors in the nation, and its founder, Udell, has become the subject of articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Time and many other publications.

His advice to would-be inventors? Get as much free information as possible from such places as the CIC, hire a reputable patent attorney and then be patient – there’s a three-year backlog of more than a million patents waiting to be approved or rejected by the U.S. Patent Office.

Udell says the biggest obstacle is financing sales and marketing of a new product. The Small Business Administration has a $2-billion budget for start-ups, and about $100 billion is available in investors’ money. But do your homework, he warns. Scam organizations fleece some $100 million from inventors every year.

Although he seems to be always on-the-go, Udell says he and his wife of 55 years, Bess – “a fourth generation Hayward farm girl” – enjoy the quiet, small-town ambiance of Castro Valley and look forward to occasionally “eating out” at the Subway restaurant in the 580 Marketplace. They have two children, Michael and Susan, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, who live back east.



County Embroiled in New Sign Controversy
Friday, 19 September 2014 08:29
One of three billboards on Lockaway Storage property catching the attention of I-580 motorists.

By Amy Sylvestri



Motorists traveling between Castro Valley and the Tri-Valley on I-580 can’t help but notice three large billboards that have been put up on Eden Canyon  Road near the Lockaway Storage facility.

The county says the billboards are illegal, but the owners of the storage facility who installed them say that it is unconstitutional for the county to block their signs.

An employee who answered the phone at Lockaway said she knew nothing of the background of the billboards except that they were put up by the business owners. She declined to pass along a request to the owners for information.

The billboards are credited to “Citizens for Free Speech” and urge passersby to visit a website ( that rails against regional government for “usurping sovereignty and control from locally elected city, town, and county officials.”

In particular, the site criticizes the Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG) and the “One Bay Area” plan which the site says are implementing policies that hurt individual cities.

Though they are on the owners’ private property, the signs violate the county sign ordinance, according to Tona Henninger of the Alameda County Planning department. She said such billboards would require vetting by the County Board of Zoning Adjustments before being installed.

After county officials wrote two letters to the owners about removing the signs, the owners responded that they would take the case to court, Henninger said.

Earlier this summer, the owners filed an injunction against Alameda County arguing that the county has too much control over signs and called the county’s action “unconstitutional,” said Henninger.






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.




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