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Local Residents Help Victims of Butte Fire Rebuild Their Lives
Wednesday, 07 October 2015 07:44
Inside a storefront donated by Copperopolis Town Square, Open Arms Animal Resources and Rescue members sort through donations.  From left are Laurie Ferguson, Sarah Woods, Heidi Woods, and Wendy Wink of Castro Valley.

By Linda Sandsmark


Dozens of generous Castro Valley area residents have stepped up to provide long-term help for victims of the Butte Fire, which consumed almost 71,000 acres in Calaveras and Amador counties last month.

One group, Open Arms Animal Resources and Rescue, originally focused on helping pet owners and animals left homeless by the fire. However, the non-profit group has expanded its assistance to help displaced families rebuild their lives.

“What people need now are building supplies like work gloves, tarps, shovels, rakes, nails and screws, overalls and men’s jeans, flashlights, boots, and camping equipment,” says Castro Valley native Laurie Ferguson. “We’re also still collecting pet food, kennels, coops, crates, dog beds and animal supplies.”

The Butte Fire burned 475 homes and claimed two lives. Though most television coverage has been of the larger Valley Fire in Napa/Sonoma, the situation is just as dire for the survivors of the Butte Fire, which started Sept. 9.

“We called our friend Matt Evans, who lives up in Calaveras County, and his family had lost two houses,” says Ferguson. “He told us things were not alright up there, and that fire victims were seeing things people should never have to see. The next day we loaded up a trailer with pet carriers, pet food, leashes and pet equipment because we knew there would be people who would need help with their animals.”

Once they got to Calaveras county, Open Arms approached the Red Cross, but were told their help wasn’t needed. So they went trailer-to-trailer at the county fairgrounds evacuation center, handing out pet food, pet crates and leashes to grateful evacuees.

“The outpouring of appreciation  was amazing. People really didn’t even seem to know where to get pet food,” says Wendy Wink of Castro Valley. “It was just sad.”

Ferguson, Wink and their friends at Open Arms decided to support Butte Fire evacuees over the long haul. Back home in Castro Valley, many folks asked if they could donate.

Scott Henderson of Rayco Doors and Windows offered his shop (2516 San Carlos Avenue, Castro Valley) as a collection site, Monday through Friday, 8 to 4.

Through a series of fortuitous events, Open Arms was lent an empty storefront in the small Calaveras County town of Copperopolis, some 25 miles from the fire. With a safe place to store donations, the group plans to come up weekly with donated items, as long as their help is needed.

The first weekend they arrived with four trucks and three trailers of toiletries, blankets and water (and so many clothes that more clothes are not needed). All items are given free to fire victims.

The locals have asked for shovels and rakes to sift through the ashes of their homes, plus the work clothes needed to do this. They have also requested large plastic bins with snap-on lids in which to store their belongings.

Gift cards for gas stations and grocery stores are appreciated, as are open-use gift cards like VISA. Non-perishable food is always welcome. “Wattles,” which are erosion control materials made of straw and netting, will be needed before the rains come.

Ferguson says, “Getting to use this storefront has been a blessing. It’s just been amazing. We’ve had Castro Valley volunteers, local volunteers and people from the nearby churches come by to help out. We didn’t ask, they just came.”

Inside their borrowed storefront at 105 Copperopolis Town Square, Open Arms Animal Resources and Rescue could use shelving and clothing racks so they can better organize donations.

Check out the group’s facebook page for more information: . A GoFundMe site has also been started for monetary donations. See . Open Arms is a 501(c)3 non-profit group.

A second drop-off site, J. D. Cahill Electric, will accept donations weekdays at 4355 Technology Dr., Livermore. For more information, contact Wendy Wink at 510-909-9478 or Laurie Ferguson at 510-706-9668.

Hundreds Gather at CVHS For Dubb Whitaker Memorial
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 10:02
Hundreds gathered at the Castro Valley High School football field to honor the memory of teacher Nicholas “Dubb” Whitaker with a special “Life Graduation” last Saturday morning.

By Amy Sylvestri


Hundreds gathered at the Castro Valley High School football field to honor the memory of teacher Nicholas “Dubb” Whitaker with a special “Life Graduation” last Saturday morning.

Students, teachers, and friends gathered in the stadium wearing pink in honor of Whitaker’s favorite color –  and the shade of his signature neon Mohawk that stood out in the halls of CVHS, where he was the Activities Director as well as a Leadership and Social Studies teacher.

Whitaker, 36, passed away Sept. 17 after a two-year battle with colon cancer. He is survived by his wife Lavender, daughter Kylie, his parents and countless family members and friends.

“We were just overwhelmed by the amount of community support and warmth we’ve received,” said Lavender Whitaker.

His wife said the he preferred the nickname “Dubb” because “Mr. Whitaker” was his father. Lavender joked that she called him “W” because she knew the comparison to George W. Bush would irritate his liberal learnings. Finally, they settled on Dubb and it stuck with friends and students alike.

The ceremony was upbeat in keeping with Whitaker’s wishes and his fun-loving spirit, featuring a lip-sync and air guitar session to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” from students.

Lavender Whitaker said her husband’s life was all about teaching, leading others, and never being judgmental. “He was the kind of person that wanted to make everyone feel safe and equal.”

She said that one of her husband’s biggest concerns was what would happen to his Leadership students after he passed away. Colleague and friend Michael Kentris is taking over the class and says he plans on keeping Dubb’s legacy alive.

“He made sure we always acknowledged the silly, funny things,” said Kentris. “His humor was truly a part of his aura.”

Dubb touched thousands of young lives as a teacher at CVHS and his widow said that won’t change even though he has passed on. “Keep his memory alive by loving others,” she said.

A scholarship fund in memory of Dubb has been created and Lavender Whitaker says she hopes it will be awarded to a student with leadership skills every year.

You can donate through the East Bay Community Foundation, care of the “Dubb Fund.” For more information, visit

Despite the Heat, San Lorenzo Anniversary Draws a Big Crowd
Tuesday, 29 September 2015 09:36
Angelo Meyers (in red shirt) plays with the ducks in the petting zoo at San Lorenzo’s 70th anniversary celebration last Saturday.

By Jim Knowles
Diana Fargo remembers what her parents paid for their new house in San Lorenzo, built just after World War II when home building was going like gangbusters.

“I remember their monthly payment was $47,” Fargo said. “I think the house was $8,700.”

Fargo attended San Lorenzo’s 70th anniversary celebration on Saturday in the former Mervyn’s parking lot on Hesperian Boulevard with her mom and her classmate from her school years, Beverly Martiniano.

Martiniano came to town from Arizona for the San Lorenzo Festival last Saturday and for Arroyo High’s 50th reunion this coming Saturday.

“We were in school together since kindergarten,” Fargo said. “A lot of people are going to be here from out of state, going around the neighborhood and looking at their old houses.”

The Arroyo class of 1965 will also probably look nostalgically at the old Lorenzo Theater, abandoned for decades, but a dedicated group is still trying to revive it. They gave tours of the theater during the festival, and if you didn’t get there early you had no chance of getting in. The tour groups formed a line so long you would think “Ben-Hur” was playing.

Maureen Hay, who remembers her kids going to the Lorenzo Theater, waited under the marquee to get inside on the next tour.

“I’m just here for a walk down memory lane,” Hay said.

Kids flocked to the petting zoo to meet the ducks, sheep and pigs, and people took a try swinging the big mallet on the bell ringer and other amusement games. Booths did a steady business selling corn on the cob, hot dogs and cotton candy. But in the scorching heat, the Sno-Cone booth was the place to be.

Those kids’ teachers had a more sober message, passing out fliers that pointed out their desire for better pay. There are 25 vacancies in the San Lorenzo school district, filled by substitutes, the teachers say.

“Your children deserve to be taught by highly qualified teachers, not long-term substitutes,” read the flier. “Your children deserve better than what the school board is giving them.”

“Teachers are leaving because other school districts pay better,” said Lesley Hitchings, a second-grade teacher at Corvallis Elementary.

The San Lorenzo school district is running a deficit as attendance has declined in the last few years.

David D. Bohannon built over 25,000 houses in the Bay Area, including San Lorenzo Village in the 1940s, a planned community, and the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo.

Longtime San Lorenzans say the builders brought in trainloads of lumber, set up an assembly line out in the orchards, and at one point they were completing a house per day. The idea was that the G.I. coming home from the war could afford a house.

They built so much housing back then that they didn’t need the use the term “affordable housing,” because all housing was affordable.

Residents Get a Look at Plans For Castro Valley’s New Park
Wednesday, 16 September 2015 10:40
Residents get a look at preliminary architectural drawings for Castro Valley’s newly-named Valley View Park.

By Amy Sylvestri


The Hayward Area Recreation District (HARD) held an open house on Sept. 2 at Castro Valley’s Community Center to touch base with the public about what they’d like to see for the newly-named “Valley View Park,” the site of a once-planned – but long-ago abandoned – water filtration plant.

Architects presented two versions of the 24-acre park. One places more emphasis on soccer fields, the other on play spaces and equipment. The public was asked to place stickers representing their first, second, and third choices of various features at the park.

“I think open play spaces, plenty of picnic space, clean restrooms and basically things everyone can enjoy are what people really want in a park,” said Wendy Nasser, who dropped by the open house with her young kids.

Among the features that were selected as priorities at a previous meetings were maintaining wildlife habitats and views, having walking and running trails, and maintaining privacy for homes nearby.

Other features being discussed are picnic tables, a dog park, a community garden, and a bocce ball court.

Some residents who live nearby said there should be no park, citing concerns about parking, traffic, and an increase in crime from unknown people being introduced to the area.

“There will be people we don’t even know walking through our backwards,” said one woman.

Based on community input, a master plan design will be unveiled in the coming months and go before the HARD board for approval.

Probation Department Therapist Alleges Mistreatment of Juveniles
Friday, 11 September 2015 16:33
Entrance to Camp Sweeney in hills above San Leandro

By Amy Sylvestri


A top-ranking, veteran employee of the Alameda County Probation Department has filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging that she was wrongfully disciplined when she acted as a whistle-blower to expose mistreatment of the young men incarcerated at her facility

Lisa Hill is the superintendent at Campy Sweeney, a 50-bed minimum security facility in the San Leandro hills that houses male offenders ages 15-19. Hill, a Castro Valley resident and therapist with a PhD, has worked in probation for over 30 years.

Hill says that there is a systematic verbal and physical abuse problem at the camp, and that when she attempted to call attention to the issue, higher-ups removed her instead of addressing the problem.

“I believe there are civil rights violations occurring and when I started to raise those issues with my supervisors, it fell on deaf ears,” says Hill.

Hill was placed on paid administrative leave from last January until June, when she was given a desk job in Oakland. She returned to work at Camp Sweeney just last week.

Hill says that the major issue at the camp is that it is understaffed and that leads to stressed employees working too much overtime and corners being cut.

In its annual report this summer, the Alameda County Grand Jury also found that the camp was understaffed and asked that the issue be addressed.

“There are people working back-to-back shifts that can’t supervise properly,” says Hill.

She says the young men at Camp Sweeney are subject to “rampant” verbal abuse and that fights break out constantly because there isn’t sufficient staff to stop them. She says the youth are strip-searched without good reason in order to humiliate them, that a young man received a shoulder injury from being improperly restrained by a guard, and that the youths aren’t given the recreation time they are entitled to.

Hill says that in one case, an inmate was sent to the higher-security Juvenile Justice Center where he had the right to been seen by a judge within 72 hours, but instead was held for six days and that same inmate allegedly was choked by a guard and had marks on his neck.

“Fights and things do happen in these environments, but the staff needs to be held accountable,” says Hill.

Hill says that when she complained, she was removed from her position and told that she was being investigated for being “discourteous” to her subordinates. A county internal investigation eventually dismissed the staff’s complaints about her behavior – an allegation that Hill says remained vague from the beginning.

“I never really knew what I was being placed on leave for,” says Hill.

Now, she has filed a suit in federal court against the county.

Because the suit is ongoing litigation, Alameda County Chief Probation Officer LaDonna Harris says she cannot comment on it.

“I’d love to, but I cannot comment,” says Harris.

Harris would say, however, that the young men at Camp Sweeney are well taken care of and not subject to abuse.

“Nobody’s trying to hide anything,” says Harris. “We take very seriously our responsibility towards our youth. Very, very seriously. I say repeatedly that these youth are ‘gifted’ to us for rehabilitation. Myself and my staff would never stand for abuse. We investigate any violation. I challenge anyone to show me where an allegation has been made and no action has been taken.”

For her part, Hill is moving forward with her lawsuit and settling back into work at Camp Sweeney.

“I believe this is a classic case of whistle-blower retaliation,” says Hill. “But this isn’t about me, this is about what’s going on in these facilities and that is not going to change if I leave.”

New Market Expected To Open This Month
Wednesday, 02 September 2015 11:02
The Lake Chabot Public Market at 18911 Lake Chabot Road will be opening later this month.



After a series of delays, the owner of the newly remodeled grocery store at 18911 Lake Chabot Road says he’ll be ready to open his doors later this month.

Hans Cho is a second-generation meat seller; his family has owned San Leandro-based wholesaler C&H Meats for over 30 years.  

His vision for the new Lake Chabot Marketplace is to run a meat counter with other food vendors in the 5,000-square-foot store to create a “boutique marketplace.”

Cho says the meat counter will have a “soft opening” in the next few weeks with other merchants coming aboard soon. He says he already has deals in place with tenants that will sell ice cream, ramen, and boba tea.

He said he’d ultimately like a bakery and coffee vendor as well as temporary “pop up” shops that could provide variety.

Cho and his brother acquired the long abandoned site (which formerly operated under the names Lil’ Grocer, Romely’s, Handy Andy, and Tony’s Market) three years ago. He originally planned to open this past January, but there were construction delays.

But now Cho says they are just down to some finishing touches and will be open in a few weeks.

“We’re almost there,” says Cho. “And almost every day someone stops by and asks what’s happening and when we’ll open. It’s great that the community is getting excited about it.”



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