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CV Rescue Volunteer Returns From Devastating Mudslide
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 06:16

Castro Valley resident Eric Sheets and his dog, Seven, volunteered with the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) at the recent mudslide at Oso, Washington.

By Linda Sandsmark



Castro Valley resident Eric Sheets and his dog “Seven”  just returned from the small town of Oso, Washington, which was engulfed by a huge mudslide on March 22.

Sheets and Seven are volunteers with the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA), a brave group that helps find lost people in emergency situations.

“When you get the call, you go if you can, despite the hazards,” says Sheets.

“I was taken aback, because I’ve been through lots of searches and thought I knew what a mudslide was like. But entire houses and cars were crushed. It was a violent event, and we were told that a million cubic yards of material came across a river and into the town at somewhere between 60 to 100 miles per hour. The people there had no chance to get away.”

Sheets and Seven had to be especially careful in this environment, always looking for boards or something solid to stand on. If they did not, the rescuers would have sunk into waist-high mud. Other potential hazards included septic tanks, antifreeze and chemicals that had been swept along in the debris.

Sheets and his dog searched at the site for three days, then were relieved by other volunteers from California, Oregon, Arizona, Montana and even New York. It was still cold and rainy, so the dogs worked in shifts to avoid hypothermia.

The search area itself was at least a mile square, where dozens of evacuators were working at the same time. Sheets and Seven worked out of Darrington, another small community just east of Oso.

The saddest thing for the rescue workers was seeing the first responders. These were local neighbors and members of the Darrington volunteer fire department, who knew friends and family members lost in the mud. Yet they welcomed the outside workers — and their dogs — grateful for the help. The residents helped outfit the volunteers and made sure their needs were taken care of.

“It was humbling to see how strong they were,” says Sheets.

Although CARDA volunteers are not allowed to discuss specific discoveries made in the mudslide, nor provide photos of the site, Sheets says the dogs did an amazing job and that California should be proud.

“The disaster was a call to action to help find those who hadn’t been found yet. It was clear how hurt Darrington was, because it’s such a small, tight-knit rural community almost everyone knows each other,” says Sheets.

“It’s very sad, because some 30 people, maybe more, were lost in this devastation that they just could not avoid. But it was heartwarming and rewarding too, because the community still has faith and that carries them on.”

Sheets says that team effort got the CARDA members all home safe and sound. He knew his wife and friends were worried, and was able to reassure them that the community members (including Washington state, California Office of Emergency Services, and FEMA) all looked out for them.

Eric Sheets has been involved in search and rescue work since he was in the Coast Guard in 1986. He’s been a Castro Valley resident since 1993 and has volunteered with canine search and rescue since 1996.

Currently there are 120 dog/trainer teams in CARDA, with another 100 teams in training. As with many volunteer jobs, it’s very expensive. When a dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, vet bills can run as high as $1,000.   Inhaling a foxtail is not only painful for a dog, but can cost $300 for removal and treatment. Each volunteer can put 10,000 to 20,000 miles on their vehicle per year. Countless hours are spent in training, and standards are very high for certification.

“It’s a life calling. Some people do soup kitchens or build homes. I want to help others and can’t sit still when I see something like this on the news. I love dogs and working outside. It feels good to contribute and bring somebody home in a desperate situation,” says Sheets.

As to why his Blue Australian Cattle Dog is named “Seven,” it’s short for Lucky Seven. Seven’s mother had been x-rayed before delivering her litter of puppies five years ago, and six puppies showed up. She delivered all six, but suddenly 12 hours later a seventh puppy popped out. That puppy was Seven, who has gone on to become an excellent search and rescue worker.

“I say he’s the Seventh dog out of six,” says Sheets.

CARDA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization ( that operates 24 hours a day to help find missing people. Donations are always needed to help with travel costs, veterinary emergencies, and operational expenses. Contributions may be sent to CARDA, 4061 East Castro Valley Blvd. No. 209,  Castro Valley, CA 94552. CARDA also welcomes corporate sponsors.

Behind the Scenes of ‘Gatsby’ With the CVHS Technical Class
Wednesday, 09 April 2014 06:35

Students Nicole Drouet, Megan Madan, Nick Alfaro, Max  Reclus and Crystal Wahab (l. to r.) paint a Rolls Royce on a set for “The Great Gatsby.”

By Linda Sandsmark




When the curtain rises for “The Great Gatsby” at the Center for the Arts on May 2, the talents of Castro Valley High School’s actors will be front and center. But behind the scenes another team of student artists and carpenters has been working just as hard, meticulously creating the backdrops and sets for 27 different scene changes within the play.

“The play is based on the novel, and it’s done in dreamlike sequences. There are eight to ten locations within the play, and we’ve had to come up with a way to transition between those scenes in a dreamlike way,” says teacher/director Tiffany Daily.

In fact, the play is a critique of the “American Dream” in the 1920s,  when money, acquired by any means, was often expected to buy privilege  and happiness.

The play is told from the vantage point of an aspiring writer named Nick Carraway, who observes first-hand the unsettling role money plays in the life of Jay Gatsby, the woman Gatsby loves, and the woman’s  husband.

Castro Valley High’s Technical Theater Class is creating scenes to convey opulence and decadence for “Gatsby,” working from artwork and blueprints by Patrick Brandon, who has been the school’s Technical Director for the past six years. Brandon is also technical director for the Church of the Three Crosses (Neighborhood Church) when he’s not working at the high school.

“The students get incredible production experience here,” says Daily. “Pat teaches them all about lights and sound. Not only that, they work from actual blueprints to build and execute the sets from scratch.”

Using an overhead projector, the students transfer visual images from the blueprint to plywood, cut the shapes, attach sections together as necessary, then paint and put finishing touches on the set pieces. Many of these must be mobile enough for students to safely move between scenes.

Scenery created for “Gatsby” includes a mansion, an elevated art-deco bandstand platform sturdy enough to hold actual musicians, a vintage gas station pump, an outdoor scene with a Rolls Royce, a fireplace inside Nick’s cottage, and the ominous “Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg,” which symbolically watch and judge the play’s characters. Each set is made by a group from start to finish.

“We take them step-by-step through the process, guiding them to give them the technical skills to accomplish the project. They can see its progression,” says Brandon. “Some kids bring art skills already, and we try to mesh their talents to various aspects of stage design. It’s exciting to see the light come on when they see they can actually make something.”

All of the 30-plus students in the class appear focused and engaged. Some are using jigsaws, others are measuring and sketching, still others are hurrying back and forth between the Paint Room and their project.

As senior Max Reclus observes, “I just like working with my hands and building things.”

The Technical Theater Class meets during the day, and the actors rehearse after school. The goal is to have substantial completion of the sets  two weeks before opening night, to give the actors familiarity with the surroundings on stage.

“Usually we finish an hour before the show opens, so the paint is dry,” says Brandon, only half joking. “Nobody wants to go onstage with wet paint.”

Castro Valley Baker’s Cakes Are Now Truly Home-Made
Wednesday, 02 April 2014 06:10

Not ready to retire yet: Dorothy Giammona assembles a cake for a customer in her Castro Valley kitchen Monday afternoon.

By Amy Sylvestri



After nearly 20 years on Forest Ave. in Castro Valley, Custom Cakes by Dorothy has shut its doors.

But don’t worry. Dorothy Giammona is still baking her cakes at home, in a smaller operation.

Dorothy Giammona first learned the art of cake decoration while a young wife nearly 50 years ago. Her husband was an administrator at a department store and she had young children and a little bit of spare time.

So she took an evening class in cake decorating.

“At first, it was just something fun, something to get me out of the house in the evenings one night a week,” said Giammona.

She moved to Castro Valley in the late 1970s where she began laying the foundation for her business, spreading the word, grass-roots style. She also taught a cake-decorating class at the Castro Valley Adult School, much like the night classes where she honed her skills.

Giammona spent 15 years teaching, in addition to her thriving retail business. She says she is slowing down now because she’s at retirement age, but will continue to do certain cakes here and there just because she loves it so much.

“I’m looking to downsize and looking to do less, but it is still something I really love doing,” said Giammona.

Her personal favorite cake is a doozie: chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, with chocolate chip accents.

Her most impressive feat was baking 40 cakes for a single wedding, with each cake acting as a separate centerpiece on each table.

Her favorite stye is to frost each cake to look like a gift – complete  with wrapping and bow.

She has sometimes played an important part in the lives of her customers. In recent years there has been a trend for couples who are expecting a baby to have their doctor seal the results of a sonogram in an envelope. They give the envelope to Giammona and she bakes a cake with either pink or blue filling to announce the sex of the new baby and they learn the news when they cut the cake.

“It’s been fantastic here in Castro Valley,” said. Giammona. “I want to thank everyone for many years of business. I really enjoyed it all. Castro Valley has always been very supportive.”

Although Giammona is slowing down, she is still taking orders at her old business number, 510-885-1520.

Nation’s Giant Hamburgers Coming to Castro Valley
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 06:27
Site for the new Nation’s restaurant at 3090 Castro Valley Boulevard at San Miguel Avenue.


By Linda Sandsmark



The rumors you have heard are true – Nation’s Giant Hamburgers is  opening its newest diner in Castro Valley.

The mostly-Bay-Area restaurant chain will take over the front third of the former Blockbuster Video store at the corner of Castro Valley Boulevard and San Miguel Avenue. Kelly-Moore Paints will remain in the other two-thirds, using its current side entrance.

“We’re thrilled to finally be in Castro Valley,” says Patrick Marasco, Nation’s Vice President of Business Development. “We’ve had this area on our radar for a long time, and we were finally able to find the right location.”

Nation’s is famous for its pies, breakfasts, and iconic burgers. Founded in San Pablo in 1952, the chain has grown from one small stand to 28 restaurants. Founder Russ Harvey and company president Dale Power called the company “Nation’s” because they believed they made the best hamburgers anywhere in the nation.

“We also feel that our pies are a unique aspect of the Nation’s concept. They’re all made fresh in the East Bay, and we deliver them to all our locations in our own delivery trucks,” adds Marasco.

Nelson T. Lewis Construction is remodeling the 2,400-square-foot interior of Nation’s new Castro Valley space right now, in hopes of opening late next month. The shop will have booth and table seating inside, plus a small outdoor eating area, for a total of approximately 75 seats.

Marasco says that customers will enter the front doors to see the company’s signature pie case front and center. There will be an order counter and “exhibition cooking” area next to that. Behind the cooking area is storage and a large walk-in refrigerator. The beef is supplied fresh through local growers.

The “Grand Breakfast” menu includes omelets, pancakes, sausage, ham, bacon, and so on.

Items on a bun include a variety of burgers, chicken, salmon, hot dogs, BLTs and meatless patties.

The Nation’s chain is headquartered in San Pablo.

“We think Castro Valley is a desirable location, because it’s on a BART line, and it’s known for its nice family-friendly community and good schools,” says Marasco. “We’re eager to open up and start selling our menu items here.”

East Bay Journalist to Hitchhike to Africa Next Month
Wednesday, 19 March 2014 06:17

Tyrel Bernardini will set off on hitchhiking trip to Africa next month.

Tyrel Bernardini is a young man who doesn’t see obstacles to his dreams.

The 25-year old Bernardini, who lives in Castro Valley, will set off on a 7,000-thousand mile journey to West Africa in the middle of next month.

It will begin on a spring morning when, with backpack in tow, he will hitchhike a ride at an on-ramp to Interstate 580. And lest you think his goal is unrealistic, it’s because you don’t know Tyrel.

A 2006 graduate of Castro Valley High School, Bernardini began hiking at age 14, running around Lake Chabot and jogging through the trails of the East Bay Regional Park system. The outdoors became as much of a home to him as the house 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.

Bernardini’s friends and family know him as a “free spirit.” In his short, quarter-century on the planet he has already hitchhiked more than 12,000 miles to such destinations as Peru, Alaska and Tanzania. Hitching rides is not only a way of meeting people from all walks of life, he says, but also a way to travel to distant places without leaving his own carbon footprint on the environment.

But he would be the first to tell you that it’s not a particularly safe way to travel. He’s had a few “bad rides” but they have been offset by mostly positive experiences.

He recounts one particularly grueling day while hitchhiking across a dessert-like stretch of highway. For four hours he stood along the highway in the blazing midday heat as cars and trucks zoomed past.  Finally a driver stopped a few hundred yards ahead and as Bernardini trotted up, the driver, who he refers to as “a saint”  reversed to meet him halfway.

The motorist offered the parched Bernardini a bottle of cold beer, a drink he has really never cared for.

“It was the best beer I have ever tasted,” he says. “I kept the bottle cap.” It became part of his collection of keepsakes, along with his observations, photos, pencil sketches and memorabilia.

Bernardini recently graduated with a major in zoology and a minor in wildlife management from Humboldt State University on California’s North Coast, a campus noted for its emphasis on nature and environmental studies. He plans to share his knowledge with Africans in exchange for learning more about their culture.

He expects the trip across the U.S. to take about three weeks, averaging about a thousand miles of travel per week. On the East Coast he plans to catch a ride – either on a freighter or a sailboat – and to work his way across the Atlantic to the West Coast of Africa.

While it would see that a lot of his adventures are left to chance, Bernardini does his research and describes himself as very organized. Part of that is learning about places in Africa and other parts of the world to stay away from.

Beyond his trip to Africa, he doesn’t know where his road of life will lead, other than continuing to set seemingly impossible goals to satisfy his “hunger for knowledge of this small blue planet.”

In a unique way of financing such a trip, Bernardini will depend on backing from friends and strangers alike through Beacon, an NGO (non-governmental organization) that helps to assist such adventures. He is hoping for 100 subscribers by March 25. He needs 41 more and time is short.

“I can’t tell you where they’ll come from, because I don’t really know,” he says, but he promises he’ll keep his backers updated with periodic postcards and emails.

Anyone who is interested in offering support for Bernardini’s trip can get more information on the program by visiting hiking-to-africa.


Norman’s Grill Burglary: Former Waitress Arrested
Wednesday, 12 March 2014 06:55


Burglars gained access to Norman’s Grill by breaking this rear window in the restaurant late last Wednesday night. About $350 was taken in the heist.

By Amy Sylvestri



Popular Castro Valley restaurant Norman’s Grill was burglarized last week and authorities say they believe it was an inside job.

At around 11 p.m. last Wednesday night, a former waitress and her boyfriend apparently broke into the restaurant and stole about $350 in cash and change, according to owner Norman Pours.

“They just broke into my restaurant,” explained Pours. “I guess they chose me because they knew the building.”

Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the waitress just a few yards away from the scene immediately after the burglary. The boyfriend is still at large, but investigators said they know his whereabouts and identity. The sheriff’s office isn’t releasing the identity of the suspects for now.

Pours said that he’d had no problems with the former waitress and that she had quit about a year ago after working at the restaurant for eight months.

“I’m shocked,” said Pours. “She was a fine worker and everything had been okay. She was always a very pleasant person. I never saw any problems with her at work.”

Pours said that the burglars had broken a widow to enter his restaurant, but despite the damage, he was still able to open on time for Thursday service. Norman’s Grill has been in the well-known “red barn” property at 3638 Castro Valley Boulevard for the past three years.

The break-in was initially reported by an alert neighbor who heard glass shattering.

Pours said that he was happy with the response from the deputies working the case.

“They responded so quickly, I was very impressed,” said Pours. “I’m really thankful for how it turned out.”



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