Castro Valley Long-Distance Hitchhiker Arrives in Congo | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 August 2014 10:53



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.



Hitchhiker Tyrel Bernardini


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 had 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.


Wary MAC Requests More Design Info | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 August 2014 10:27





By Amy Sylvestri


The Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council has asked PG&E to take its plans for a new cell phone tower back to the drawing boards.

The utility wants to put up a 55-foot antenna at their substation at 22020 Center Street and possibly augment or remove a light pole that already stands at the site.

The company had asked the board to approve the plan at Monday night’s meeting and also to help choose the design of the tower, which could be disguised as a tree.

The board could decide between designs that would resemble a pine or eucalyptus tree, or opt for a plain pole. However the MAC board told PG&E consultant Todd Johnson that they needed more information before making a recommendation.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of luck with cell phone towers in Castro Valley,” said MAC board member Marc Crawford. “Some have turned out dramatically different than what we’ve approved.”

Crawford was likely referring to a T-Mobile cell phone tower near a school on Lake Chabot Road that touched off weeks of embarrassing controversy in 2012 when many citizens said it appeared to be a phallic symbol.

That tower was given a make-over six months later with a bushier base and pointed top to look more like a tree – an Italian cypress –  after the public outcry.

Crawford also told the PG&E representative that he wasn’t thrilled with the look of  a faux-pine tower that company put up seven months ago on Sunnyslope Avenue.

The MAC board asked Johnson to return with foliage samples and tree designs so they can pick the most unobtrusive one. They also want to know for certain if the light pole on the property will stay or be removed.

“It’s a matter of aesthetics and choosing the lesser of three evils,” said board member John Ryzanych.

The board said the topic would come back at a later MAC meeting, probably within a month or so for final approval.


Bicycle Shop Owner Recalls Comic’s Visits | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 15:26




The shocking death of Oscar-winning actor and comic Robin Williams this week was particulary poignant for one Castro Village merchant.

Chris Padavana, owner of Eden Bicycles, remembered Williams’ many visits to his shop over the years, always leaving customers, staff  and passersby in gales of laughter.

Williams, who was an avid bicyclist, bought three bicycles and many accessories from Padavana.

Yesterday, Padavana recalled one visit when Williams strolled over to the nearby Starbucks to buy coffee for everyone in the bicycle shop and returned with a crowd of Starbucks patrons in hysterics.

Williams, who was 63 and a longtime Bay Area resident, was one of Hollywood’s most celebrated movie and television stars. He was found dead at his Tiburon home Monday morning, an apparent suicide.


Power Lines Downed In Saturday Accident | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 13:02



A motorist was treated at Eden Hospital for minor injuries Saturday after his southbound Toyota Camry snapped a power pole in two (at right) and crashed through a fence onto a power failure at more than 1,400 homes in the area for several hours. PG&E said all power was restored by midday Sunday. CHP Public Information Officer Eric Thomas said the 40-year-old driver, who may have been suffering from a medical condition, was going about 40 mph when the accident occurred. The accident is still under investigation.






Red Tape Cited As Hindrance To Businesses | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 12:58




By Amy Sylvestri


The Castro Valley Chamber of Commerce recently conducted a survey of local businesses, taking their temperature about what it is like to run a workplace in town and what they’d like to see in the future.

Despite reaching out to hundreds of Castro Valley’s business owners, the Chamber received only 35 replies, so nothing could be conclusively taken from the survey, but the responses they did get will be taken into consideration, according to Bill Mulgrew, executive director of the Castro Valley/ Eden Area Chamber of Commerce.

One of the largest take-aways was that several of the business owners (29 percent) were frustrated at having to go to multiple county agencies in Oakland or Hayward to get permits and licenses, with many saying they’d like to see Castro Valley incorporated so they could deal with things on a city-level.

Additionally, 30 percent of respondents said their businesses were impacted negatively by frequent changes in rules and regulations, and the time required to deal with various government agencies.

Mulgrew said that the next step for the chamber will be to meet with the county to see if they can work out a way to ease the permitting process.

Aside from the permitting issues, respondents said health care costs were their biggest woes, with 25 percent saying insurance fees have a “high impact” on them.

Those answering the survey said that the “inconsistent look of the commercial business area” was problematic (84 percent) and conditions of roads and walkways are poor (53 percent).

One quarter said that 75 to 100 percent of their business comes from Castro Valley shoppers. About half said that most of their competition comes from other businesses in town, and 27 percent said their main competition is from national “big box” stores.

The survey brought in positive responses as well. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said that Castro Valley has a strong feeling of community, 60 percent said the town has good community identity, 66  percent cited Castro Valley’s high-quality schools, and 63 percent commended public safety.

When asked what types of businesses they’d like to see come to Castro Valley, 64 percent said an upscale restaurant, with many saying that they don’t have options for places to take clients for business meetings and must go out of town for them.  About 42 percent said they’d like to see a book store open, 35 percent wanted a brand-name department store, 29 percent said a plant nursery, 25 percent said a produce stand, and 22 percent said a craft store or art gallery.

Respondents said there were plenty of banks, car repair shops, gas stations, dry cleaners, doctors, and bars already.

Mulgrew said that the Chamber will mow share their findings with the county and move on from there. He added that the chamber plans to a similar survey of residents toward the end of the year to see what the general public thinks about existing businesses in town.



Don’t Trash it, Restore It: Making Old Furniture Look Like New | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 12:52



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

National Night Out: Night to Get to Know The Neighbors | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 August 2014 13:17



National Night Out neighborhood organizer Alison Schmidt (right) shares a flyer about the August 5 event with her neighbor Dagmar Bedard.


By Linda Sandsmark


All across the U.S.A., Tuesday, Aug. 5 will  mark a “National Night Out” (NNO) where people are encouraged to turn on their porch lights and step outside to meet their neighbors.

In one neighborhood near Creekside Middle School, a movement is growing to create that “small-town” feel on an ongoing basis. Starting with this year’s NNO, residents are hoping to stay linked for the long term.

New resident Alison Schmidt, who participated in NNO events at her past residences in Oakland and Southern California, is spearheading the effort with her boyfriend Brian Weber.

“We really just want to get everyone in the neighborhood together to get to know each other and hopefully have a good time, and maybe have some lasting results in terms of a more connected and safer neighborhood,” says Schmidt.

The plan is for residents in the vicinity of Gliddon Street and  Edwards Lane to hold a potluck barbecue starting at 6 p.m. at the intersection of those two streets. Tables, chairs and two grills will be set up. Although bringing re-usable plates is encouraged, disposable place settings will be available.

Residents of the east side of Center Street from Paradise Knolls to Heyer are invited to drop by (including Larimer, Parkview, Noree, Rollinghills, Newhaven, and the streets mentioned above).

Longtime Edwards Lane residents Lu and Dagmar Bedard say they are excited about the event.

“We’d really like to get a small-town feel to our neighborhood, more than just a wave as you drive by,” says Dagmar.

She and her husband are especially hoping to “map” the neighborhood, to help find out who might need assistance in case of emergency (such as the elderly, or those living alone or with young children) as well as which neighbors might have medical skills or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.

Schmidt adds that in her former neighborhood in Oakland it wasn’t easy to get to know her neighbors, but one community-minded resident set up a neighborhood social network using the free “” website. She encourages others to explore the site.

“We found it to be a great way to get news about the neighborhood, so when we bought our house in Castro Valley, we looked up the group for this area on, and found that one existed,” she says.

It was started by the Bedards, and included 30 homes in the neighborhood. Those members have been contacted about NNO, and flyers are going out to all neighbors. Schmidt hopes more residents who live nearby will come and introduce themselves.

“It can be difficult to meet your neighbors,” says Schmidt, “but we really do so much better when know our neighbors and can look out for each other.”



Emergency Preparedness Drill Coming | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 August 2014 13:17




By Amber Simons


At a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday, Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern outlined plans for this year’s Urban Shield, the preeminent emergency preparedness drill in the nation.

The multi-day exercise, first developed by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in 2007, will take place in five weeks and involve a series of unique scenarios to test law enforcement agencies’ response to a catastrophic event such as a terrorist attack.

“This is the biggest and best [training exercise] in the nation, if not the world for law enforcement,” Sheriff Ahern told his audience at Castro Valley’s Moose Lodge.

This year’s Urban Shield will include 35 tactical teams, 26 fire teams and nine explosive ordinance teams, according to Ahern.

“We had well over 4,000 people participating in Urban Shield last year and about 2,500 or so were volunteers,” he said.

Participants include personnel from all levels of government in law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency medical services, hazardous materials teams, and so on.

Among those invited to this year’s drill is Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Sheriff Ahern said his agency has learned safety tactics from other organizations – national and international – and trains year-round for disasters.

This year’s Urban Shield takes place from Sept. 4 to 8.

Ahern said he started the program because, “I knew I wasn’t capable of managing and being in charge of something like the Loma Prieta earthquake.

“So I designed this to help me get better prepared myself. I looked at my gaps and my core capabilities and tried to improve in those areas where I think I needed to get better.”

On a local level, Sheriff Ahern said there are ways in which the public can assist law enforcement.

“See something, say something,” he said. “If you see something that’s suspicious, call us, we’ll respond. “We’re one of the only agencies that still comes to your house when you call about certain crimes.”

Sheriff Ahern urged residents to use the AlertID system to stay informed on what’s going on in the area.

“It’s a free system we recommend,” Sheriff Ahern said.

AlertID is an app that makes pubic safety information available to the community on their computers, phones and mobile devices. For more information, visit


MAC Defers Action on New E-Cigarette Law | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 August 2014 10:40





By Amber Simons


Many of those in attendance at Monday night’s Municipal Advisory Council meeting came to discuss two controversial items on the agenda.

One was a proposed E-Cigarette Vapor Ordinance presented by Dr. Muntu Davis of the Alameda County Public Health Department and Deputy County Counsel Farand Kan.

The proposed law would “amend the county’s current tobacco and smoking regulation ordinances to include electronic smoking devices.”

It would, in essence, put e-cigarettes and so-called “vaping” in the same category as tobacco-smoking in the eyes of the law.

Councilmember Cheryl Miraglia said she found “a plethora of logical fallacies” and “hasty conclusions” within the ordinance.

While there was support for some regulation of e-cigarettes, council members struggled with what they called a lack of research in the ordinance proving the dangers of e-cigarette vaping.

Council members did not agree with lumping tobacco products and e-cigarettes together.

When the discussion was open to the public, some of the audience members agreed there should be some sort of regulation, but expressed concern over the lack of scientific research on e-cigarettes in the ordinance.

The MAC decided to continue the item for a later meeting, but was uncertain as to a the date.

The second item that triggered a lengthy discussion was an application to amend the Castro Valley General Plan.

Applicant James Knuppe wants to rezone a property in order to allow light industrial, commercial and residential development.

The proposed project would be located at 21634 Redwood Rd. in Castro Valley and would consist of two, two-story buildings with showrooms on the first floors and possible residential apartments on the second level.

Some audience members said they were concerned over noise, high traffic volume and lack of privacy created by the proposal.

But others expressed excitement over a project that would present an opportunity for mixed-use development and the potential for light industrial use in Castro Valley.

There was concern among MAC members for such residential use in a commercial area, privacy for neighborhood residents and increased traffic, but they shared the excitement for the potential development of a vacant lot and new land uses in the town. The hearing was informational only and no action was taken.

In other business, the MAC decided, in a 4-1 vote, to continue a request by Sorani/Verizon Wireless to allow the operation of a small cell phone facility at 20457 Redwood Road in Castro Valley.

The project would include placing a cylindrical Verizon antenna on the rooftop. Verizon representative Jay Gruendle disagreed with the County Community Development Agency’s recommendation to construct a new parapet wall on the back of the building to screen the antenna. MAC members asked for a clearer photo simulation of the project and more details in order to approve or deny the request.

The next MAC land-use hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 11, at the Castro Valley Library.



Tuesday, 05 August 2014 15:50


Linear Nevus Sebaceous Syndrome


Baby Zacchaio Thiele of Castro Valley has a rare and potentially life-threatening disorder known as Linear Nevus Sebaceous Syndrome. There are only 100 known cases in the world.


By Linda Sandsmark


Creekside Middle School teacher Aiden Thiele and his wife Alexis are  in stressful territory for young parents — hoping that brain surgery for their baby Zacchaio will help him overcome seizures he suffers due to a rare disorder.

The Thiele’s seven-month-old son was born with Linear Nevus Sebaceous Syndrome, which is only known to affect 100 people worldwide.

“We don’t know what developmental hurdles to expect with our son’s diagnosis in five years, in six months, or even tomorrow. We can only embrace his journey and all the discovery that comes with it, not looking too far ahead and enjoying the beauty that is today,” says his mother Alexis.

“He has indeed been dealt a difficult hand but continues to defy odds with beaming smiles,” she adds.

The exact cause of Linear Nevus Sebaceous Syndrome is unknown, but it can affect the brain, eyes, and bones. It is believed to be caused by a mutation of a gene that occurs after fertilization of the embryo.

Alexis is herself a Registered Nurse at Eden Hospital, though she is out on leave because Zac-chaio requires around-the-clock care. Since the baby began experiencing seizures a few months ago (over 300 in one day) the family is seeking help from a specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Alexis has documented Zacchaio’s medical journey in a moving online diary (, and friends have set up another page to assist with the baby’s medical expenses and trip to the specialist.

“Their savings are tapped out at this point,” says long-time friend Robert Frey. “There seems to be one doctor in the U.S. who can help them get treatment, and the sooner the better.”

Anyone interested in helping the Thieles may go to the website and enter the name “Team Zacchaio” in the “Search Fundraisers” box near the upper right.

The Thiele family’s  connections to Castro Valley run deep. Alexis (Kollias) was an athletic student who excelled in basketball and volleyball at Canyon Middle School and Castro Valley High. She played volleyball at U.C. Berkeley and married Aiden, who teaches English at Creekside. They have another young son named Alkaio.

Zacchaio has had his ups and downs, which may continue as he grows older. In the meantime, the family is focused on reducing his seizures. He faces at least a week of tests and brain scans with the Boston specialist, and possible lifelong medical treatments. Nevertheless, the family remains upbeat.

“The outpouring of love for our son has been so inspiring,” says Alexis. “We remain hopeful that the unity of love and faith we have witnessed will create incredible opportunities for our son!”




Big-Name Performers At Festival | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 05 August 2014 15:47




This year’s 42nd Annual Fall Festival – coming up on the second weekend in September – will feature nationally-known music stars in addition to the top local performers that traditionally attract thousands of festival goers to the town each year.

“We’re really excited at how the entertainment schedule is shaping up,” said Bill Mulgrew, Executive Director of the Castro Valley / Eden Area Chamber of Commerce. “We try hard to feature acts that are diverse and relevant, and this year should be outstanding.

“We have booked Colt Records’ Nashville recording star Andy Joe Stewart, who is coming off a hot new album, ‘Come Saturday Night,’ and we are really excited to have Xavier Toscano, who has just finished recording his third album and has signed to do a tour in Europe.”

Mulgrew said the festival will have two widely-separated stages this year – the main stage at Redwood Road, and the Community Stage down near Santa Maria, “so there won’t be any inadvertent overlap of sound, as there had been in previous years.”

Returning local favorite entertainers include The Giant Garage Band Spiders, Blue Voodoo, Del Amore, Standoff, and Last one Picked.

“The closing act Saturday will be Rocktapus, who will definitely get people out of their seats. This should be one of the best musical Fall Festivals ever,” said Mulgrew.

Families will have more and different activities this year. Almost all of the space between Wilbeam and Santa Maria will be dedicated to the kids’ area which will feature a pony ride for the little cowboys and cowgirls, and other county-fair style attractions.

The 2014 Castro Valley Fall Festival will be held on Castro Valley Blvd. which will be closed between Redwood Road and Santa Maria Ave. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday Sept. 13 and 14.   

For more information or to become a Fall Festival volunteer, please call the Castro Valley/Eden Area Chamber of Commerce at 510-537-5300.


CVSan Marks 75 Years This Friday | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 05 August 2014 15:09




CVSan General Manager Roland Williams at the District Headquarters on Marshall Street in Castro Valley.

By Amy Sylvestri



The Castro Valley Sanitary District is celebrating its 75th anniversary this Friday with an open house beginning at 2 p.m. at the district office.

What’s now been abbreviated to “CVSan,” the district was established on July 25, 1939 when the town was mostly agriculture – chicken farms and orchards. The district was set up to manage waste water and garbage collection and continues to do so today.

District General Manager Roland Williams says the anniversary event is a great opportunity for people to see how the infrastructure of sanitation works. Not a lot of people think about what happens to their trash once their garbage cans are picked up, but the process is interesting.

“Come on out and help us celebrate and check out how things work,” says Williams.

The event will feature demonstrations on how the district treats both wastewater and garbage. They’ll show off their vacuum vehicle and automated garbage trucks as well as show videos of exactly what goes on in Castro Valley sewers.

The event lasts all afternoon. In addition to the demonstrations, there will be free ice cream and other giveaways.

The CVSan district office is located at 21040 Marshall Street.





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