28

Running blind at Skyline

Skyline High School’s track and field has fancy stadium lights, which could really come in handy during the short days between November and March. Here’s the catch: Its sports teams aren’t allowed to flip the switch for practice.


photo by Ray Chavez/Tribune staff

A 6-year-old contract between since-departed Oakland school district officials and the Hillcrest Estates Improvement Association restricts light use to 10 games a year — no practices. So, during Standard Time, outdoor sports teams either call it quits early or stick it out in the dusk.

LaMont Sanders, a 17-year-old track star, broke his leg last month while attempting his last set of hurdles at dusk.


photo by Ray Chavez/Tribune staff

The issue has been a sore spot for years. Skyline’s string of principals has been unable to reach a compromise with the neighbors (The existing contract has been breached in the past, which has complicated negotiations), although there is hope that the stalemate will end this year.

At a practice last month, the student-athletes shared their frustrations with me.

“The jumpers are jumping when it’s dark out. The football players? It’s a contact sport, and they can’t see anything,” said Cheron Amey, 17, a high-jumper and hurdler. “The lights have to cost a lot of money to be put up. I don’t think they were put there just for show.”

School leaders are hashing out a proposal with the neighborhood association that would allow the team to use half of the lights (those facing the school) four days a week, from 5 to 7 p.m. during Standard Time.

The story is scheduled to be in tomorrow’s Wednesday’s paper.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Anna Treadwell

    I thank the Tribune for caring enough to do this story & look forward to the article, because the school district has let hundreds of kids run in the dark for the last 6 yrs. & hasn’t cared to do anything about it. I have heard recently that an official from OUSD is fighting this most recent supposed pending agreement & I hope it’s not true. Unless they’ve finally come to their senses & decided to let all the lights come on because it’s the right thing to do & this agreement that they signed with the homeowners is the wrong thing. After 6 yrs. of my child & others running in the dark I’m thankful if 2 lights come one, but I’m not in the least satisfied because it’s not safe. All 4 need to be on for safety, there’s a reason there’s four! The track is large & things are going on all over the track not just on 1 side! The lights won’t be on where my child runs hurdles & others. Half the long jump run will be lit, half the track. Have you ever seen any sporting event or practice that’s half lit? None of the other schools in Oakland have this limitation, none of the other kids. The lights are there & paid for, let them be used. Please speak out on this.

  • John

    On this issue I say, “Let there be light!” Perhaps the lights should be expanded and re-defined for Skyline’s neighbors as security lights to help protect them from deeds of darkness during night time school gatherings?

  • Sharon

    Last Tuesday night I was at Miramonte High School in Orinda for an evening event. It is only 8.4 miles away from Skyline. For the time I was there (7 to ~9 pm), the school grounds were well lit and the field lights were shining bright.

    I also noticed that Miramonte’s campus is surrounded on a least two of its sides by townhouses and homes.
    My guess is that residents living near Miramonte don’t try to restrict and shut down the school’s evening activities by complaining about the annoyance of the lights. It would be interesting to hear their point of view.

    You can take a look at Google satellite maps to compare the two settings yourself. Similar campus layout, similar neighborhood demographics. Different school demographics.

    Let’s all take a guess about what’s really going on.

  • skyline parent

    I am going to take a guess what is going on: The neighbors at Miramonte support their local schools. Many of the students who attend there live in the immediate surrounding neighborhood and “look” like the homeowners, while Skyline students are far more diverse and come from all over Oakland.

    I live close to Skyline, but not close enough to be part of the unfair agreement with the school district. I have no idea of why OUSD would ever have agreed to the restrictions set into place, and am ashamed to be part of that community at large.

    There is no reason that other OUSD high schools should be able to have full sports programs and Skyline should not. Does anyone really think that because the neighbors are rich, they should be able to bully the school district? I would love to see someone file an injunction against the agreement and end it immediately. It is my understanding that it was a very few outspoken people who got it into place.

    Katy, I hope this piece makes it into the printed paper. Maybe that will shame the homeowners into relenting. It would be interesting if they were actually willing to come forward in public/print and defend their position, especially in light of the injuries.

  • former hills parent

    Before condemming the neighbors and calling it an “unfair agreement” how about checking to see how the original agreement came about. Possibly there were other problems that developed as a result of night games.

  • Bari Johnson-Glass

    Seeing this article on the front page of my Tribune at 5:40 this morning has truly made my day! Thanks so much for shedding some much needed light on a situation that should not have ever been tolerated. I am one of the parents who has sat in my car, in the dark as my child practiced and as recently as December 12th, sat at a track meet in complete darkness struggling to determine where my child was on the track field, all the while noting the unused track lights. I was dismayed and angry upon finding out that the paramedics who arrived to aid injured Lamont Sanders could not initially locate him because he was in the dark on the opposite side of the field from where they were!

    I’d like to say to the Hillcrest Estates Improvement Association – shame on you! Surely, the stars will still be there for all to see after 7pm. Just as we are ALL deserving of the beauty Oakland has to offer, we are all deserving of the basic comforts as well and having lights while practicing in the dark is without question, essential for Skyline’s students and athletes.

    My guess is that the homeowners living in the vicinity of Skyline worked long and hard over time in order to afford the homes they live in. The students many of them are so disdainful of are working just as hard and deserve at the least, to be able to practice and compete with lights on. It clearly says something for their level of tenacity if many of them come out year after year and continue to practice under these conditions, garnering the 2008 OAL track and field championship.

    I am well aware that sharing one’s surroundings with a high school with a large, often spirited population has it’s challenges. However, requiring that the lights be turned off on hard-working students who are doing the right thing, despite being in the dark is simply not fair and is just wrong.

    I’m also noticing that many of us who are commenting are dancing around the issue of color and class. Yes, Skyline is primarily comprised of people of color which makes Skyline a microscosm of the city I live in and love, one that is rich in diversity in terms of race, customs, attitudes and financial status. There really, truly, is room for all of us. “It takes a village to raise a child” does not just pertain to people living in the flatlands. The responsibility for ensuring that this generation of Oakland’s students flourishes is everyone’s responsibility.

    Skyline’s students need their lights on.

  • Lisa

    Next OUSD athletic project — An extra 10 yards at Fremont Federation so the football field is regulation size? And perhaps a new playing surface so knees don’t get injured and skin doesn’t get burned. It’d be great to also have field goals that stand at 90 degeees.

  • ex ousd staff

    There is not much nice to say about the vocal neighbors around Skyline. Skyline High didn’t sneak up on these NIMBY homeowners by stealth, it covers forty acres and has been there since 1962. There is no way that the presence of the high school didn’t figure into the disclosures surrounding the purchases of these expansive estates. Their resistance is often simply spiteful. One former Skyline A.D. once offered some obstinate neighbors $100 to go out and have a nice dinner during game time so that Skyline could host a night game and the neighbor refused. What is going on here is simple greed, spite, fear of the “other” and an abysmal absence of a sense of community. This has long been a contentious issue, but the school was there first, the neighbors knew what they were getting into when they bought, and schools provide a fundamental social service. The needs of hundreds of young athletes cannot take second place to the self centered whims of a handful of homeowners. The district needs to show some backbone here, it is not as if they have anything to lose in the opinions of these homeowners anyway.

  • former hills parent

    Once again, I would advise the current OUSD administration to research the original agreement and see what problems brought it about. These problems may no longer exist and the current neighbors may not oppose game lights. How about checking this out first, rather than assuming that there are other motives at play here.

  • Anna Treadwell

    Thanks to everyone who sounded off on this issue. It’s been kept in the dark for too long. Again thanks to the Tribune & Katy Murphy for helping to bring it to light. I believe it’s true that the majority of the homeowners assn. would try to cooperate, but the few have made it their mission to keep this ridiculous policy in place. The folks who went in these houses to check how the lights affected them have told me that they had to practically lie on the floor to see them. The school district has bent over backward to give in to every single thing these few neighbors have asked, & have forgotten that their job is to provide an EQUAL educational experience, which includes athletics. I don’t care what outlandish reasons were behind this beginning, but it needs to end now. School is back in on Jan. 5, will they be running in the dark? I certainly hope not. Let’s pls. keep pressure on everyone to do the right thing. Thanks.

  • Small Town Kid

    former hills parent – for those of us who don’t know of the past issues, can you point to a news article, etc. that discusses it? It’s easy to imagine a hills vs. flatland and/or class-based perspective – I’d love to know the real reason.

    The agreement already allows (from what I understand) for night football games; what issues would allowing lights during track practise cause?

  • Skyline Neighbor

    As a Skyline neighbor in the immediate vicinity, I would like to offer up some good news on the lighting issue. The new administration at Skyline High School is open to sitting down with the Hillcrest Estates Improvement Association and discussing the lighting issue. This hasn’t happened for years, and we are relieved that there is now an atmosphere of positive dialogue.

    In the face of this, commenting that we, the Skyline High neighbors, do not support the school is a cheap and unwarranted shot.

    We have cleaned up litter on campus, pulled weeds, attended games, registered kids in the fall. A bit of history: installation of the lights started without any notification whatsoever; further, in the past six years, the existing contract has been breached by Skyline High every single season for the past 6 years, sometimes 5 nights per week.

    Despite these breaches, we are hoping to achieve a better understanding with the school under the new administration. No one here wants any student to injure themselves in the dark!

    In the meantime, it is not productive to judge the neighborhood in cultural terms, or to accuse us of non-support. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a 6 year history of contract breaches that we (both Skyline and HEIA) are working to put behind us. In this new climate of cooperation, comments that disparage the neighborhood do much to harm forward momentum.

  • Sharon

    Skyline Neighbor: Thank you for adding that information. I thank you and the neighbors of the school who have been willing to connect with Skyline and provide it with your help. Public schools need the support of as many caring adults in the community as they can get.

    I am a parent volunteer who works to keep some of the good things going at Skyline, and to make other things better. Skyline is a good school and most of its students are good kids.

    As you know, many of the families living in Skyline’s large enrollment area aren’t open to sending their children to the school. Their discomfort and subsequent rejection of Skyline is definitely connected to the demographics of the student body. This saddens me and I wish their reaction wasn’t so extreme.

    Probably because I am extra-sensitive about it, the school’s conflicts with some of its neighbors over the years have often felt like more of the same. I appreciate that there would be special issues for residents who have chosen to live next to a 2000+ student school. It also seems to me that they could be magnified where any type of “us versus them” mentality exists; that’s why I wonder about the relationship between Miramonte and its neighbors.

    I’m so very glad to hear that hopeful progress is being made with our new administration and greatly look forward to my daughter’s school’s having a more positive relationship with its neighbors. Maybe I’ll meet you at an upcoming Beautification Day.

  • Small Town Kid

    Skyline Neighbor – Thank you for your comments and I hope that the neighborhood association and school administration can work this out to everybody’s satisfaction.

  • John

    The student culture of Miramonte does not equal the student cutlure of Skyline, consequently the attitude of Miramonte neighbors does not equal the attitude of Skyline neighbors. Perhaps that’s why Miramonte’s neighbors are inclined to send their kids to Miramonte and Skyline neighbors are not?

    When I attended Skyline the neighbors weren’t adverse to sending their kids to Skyline, but now they are while Miramonte neighbors are not. Yep, those Skyline neighbors sure have changed.

    Here’s a typical parent review of Miramonte:

    “This school (Miramonte) is as good as any public high school can get. There is a real culture of achievement, and the students are friendly and helpful. My son likes and respects all his teachers, and tells me that the under acheievers never rule the class.”

    Such reviews are obvious cover-ups! As divined by Skyline Parent (#4), “Many of the students who attend (Miramonte live in the immediate surrounding neighborhood and “look” like the homeowners, while Skyline students are far more diverse and come from all over Oakland.”

    Yep, those neighborhood (and other) Miramonte parents can’t fool us, and certainly not Skyline Parent, with all that ‘polite high achiever student’ stuff. The only reason they like Miramonte and send your kids there is because the students there “look” like them.

    I think Skyline Parent should be nomined for the ‘Sherlocks Holmes Sleuth of the Year Award.” And she certainly has every reason to feel “ashamed” of the Skyline community at large and would be well justified in moving off the hill and living with more folks who don’t “look” like her.

    Or perhaps, as a compromise, Skyline Parent could buy or rent a cheap vacation home near 77th Ave & International Blvd. and spend her weekends and holidays in a neighborhood where she won’t feel so ashamed?

  • Kevin

    I graduated from Skyline High School in 1987. I had lived on Skyline Blvd since 1968. My parents still live there. While attending Skyline, I played football and ran track…in the dark. Though it was absolutely absurd at the time knowing that other schools like Miramonte had lights, my family and I had no faith in the districts ability to deal with the Hillcrest Estates.

    Since this has come up AGAIN over 20 years later I will say this. It is an unreasonable expectation that a community with a public High School should dictate terms. The vast majority of Hillcrest Estate homeowners are almost certainly new residents who probably thought they were moving to a safe haven from the flatlands.

    Newsflash:
    1. Hillcrest Estates is not Beverly Hills and Skyline is not a private school who benefits from your endowment contributions.
    2. It is now 2009, not 1962. Kids from the flatlands are no longer excluded from getting what is perceived to be a better education.
    3. Finally, when the district opened Skyline and you sent your kids to private High School, you should have also moved to Montclair. I also went to Montera were I was harassed by a cop for being in the neighborhood after dark. You’ll love it there.

    Hillcrest Estates should not be able to dictate the terms of Skyline High School no more than any other public High School in Oakland. But alas… the OUSD will blow it again, and Skyline will probably still have no lights. Therefore, my congratulations to you in advance.

  • Nancy

    The reality is that when somebody invests hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars into a property, they should have imput into the decision-making items that impact their neighborhood. Again, it appears they need mediation or something to jump start the talks again.

    Just because people of less socioeconomic status want their children to get a “better” education doesn’t mean they can strong arm their way in with what I perceive to be an “entitlement” complex along with narcisism which I see much of the time in alot of reverse-hostile people who are low wage earners or different from the mainstream culture of the school and/or socioeconomically disinfranchised and not privy to non-working wealth, even I get angry about the lack of quality of live choices. But you don’t always get it your way – and, many do through demands, threats, and counter manipulation.

    Remember the whole history of public school funding has centered around arguments between the haves and the have nots along with all of the perceived entitlements of both sides. Which ever side of the fence you are on remember, most of the time you have to be able to buy the “better” item, education or otherwise, if you can’t pay its not within your means to have it, end of story; yet the real issue is value-of the attachment to that which is perceived to be much more than it really is…

  • Anna Treadwell

    How ironic that Nancy should speak of “demands, threats & counter manipulation”. Because this is just exactly what some of the neighbors have been and are employing to keep the district scared of doing the right thing. They are so scared of angering the monied & apparently connected neighbors that they have chose to let these children run in the dark forgetting their 1st and foremost job of keeping them safe. One of these neighbors walked in to a daylight track meet last year, didn’t pay, stalked around peering into everything & walked out & remained staring into the track area from behind the fence for some time. This is after exhaustive meetings with the athletic director & coaches where the loudness of the PA & the times we could use it where negotiated. It is a lie that lights have been left on every single year, whatever breaches have been few & far between. If you read the agreement the neighbors have had a say since the beginning, as far as the type of plants, type of lights, fences, etc. Her comments are insulting. Your attitude of entitlement is sad, especially since we have shown that working together we can elect a good man like Obama. The bottom line is that the school has lights, 4 lights, that need to be used, for what they were installed for, without the interference of people who have no claim whatsoever for their reasoning.

  • melanie

    I don’t understand what “nancy” is talking about. How does “less economic status” and kids running track in the dark relate? Things DO sound contentious between the Homeowners and Skyline. OUSD has a lot of negative press. I admire the people who stick it out as teachers and supporters. In the meantime, where is the leadership to deal with neighbors who feel money can buy them something that is not for sale, i,e. safety in an environment that is positive for the growth and maturing of our high school population. Hmmmm, is it me? or do the neighbors push more power than they deserve? Thank you for making this news available to those of us in the flatlands.

  • redwoodman

    There is a huge attitude of entitlement and I bet it would be a differnt story if the campus was a toney private school and not a public school. Imagine if it was Head Royce players getting their legs broken or standing around in the dark waiting for rides- the place would be lit up like the Mormon temple.
    The darkness is important for wildlife in the area but using lights for practice and having them off by 7 or 8 pm is no different than summer when it does not get dark till 9.

  • Nancy

    Just watch the school board meeting reruns on KDOL and/or City Council meeting and see how many neighbors have complained over the past 10 years about nuisances going on at the schools and parks in their neighborhoods – fire alarms over the weekend for one and the fact that their is no follow-up or enforcement, and those people end up feeling the same way these people in the Hillcrest Estates area apparently feel.

    I am a flatland resident–not a Hillcrest Estates neighbor. I have watched many times people targeting “Hill” people with what is really anger and resentment over access to working and non-working wealth. I suspect that the “breaches” are part of that misplaced anger and resentment, but not justification to bully and harass anyone.

    Just because someone lives in the Hillcrest Estates area doesn’t necessarily mean they are ALL monied and have connections–yet they do ALL have needs, and like any community, they have a right to express those needs and then have agreements respected and enforced.

    To me this just sounds like an extension of the workplace bullying dynamics going on about how adults in this City do not have mutual respect for eachother and their needs–that someone can be disrespected because their needs are not thought to be worthy of being respected because they are rich and/or homeowners in a wealthy area–if that is the truth at all about those people in Hillcrest Estates.

    Sounds to me like all this barking is to escalate hostility and try to inflame others–of some kind of Drama going on all the time–ultimately to disturb the peace and serenity of the neighborhood every so often.

    If you really take a look at any neighborhood of Oakland, most people are just as passionate about their needs and the expectation of enforcement.

    You all need to hire a professional mediator to stop this kind of conduct on both sides of the issue.

    As far as Obama’s concerned: Why did he appoint Arne Duncan as US Secretary of Education? Why don’t you read what everyone is saying about that and see just what kind of team work is coming next. You won’t have one ounce of input into whether or not those school lights go on or off or whatever else you want to bring up.

  • Sharon

    So what is the real issue, a concern about teenage behavior or the annoyance of light? Perhaps it’s both, but what is the split? Is it 50/50, or maybe more like 90/10? If it’s mostly about behavior, people need to realize that teenagers from a wide range of social classes have the potential to cause big problems.

    Last summer a large group of high school students from Piedmont decided to have a bonfire party late at night. The kids decided to hold it in the middle of Sequoia Arena, an equestrian facility in Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park, a heavily wooded area only 1.6 miles away from the neighborhood dealing with this lighting issue.

    These “smart” kids (from a school district with an API of 919) held their midnight bonfire in the hills at the peak of our most extreme high fire season. To get firewood, they tore apart the fence that surrounds the horse arena. Not only was a portion of the fence destroyed, but burned wood and nails were left in the sand (dangerous for horses). The only way park management learned who the kids were is because in their drunken state they had thrown their chairs in the fire, too, complete with ID tags that happened not to burn. I imagine that the City of Oakland was able to receive some recovery for their losses, probably from the well-off parents via their attorneys.

    This entire incident happened very quietly and didn’t get any press. Just sit back and try to imagine what the response would have been if the kids were from Oakland’s flatlands instead. Privilege buys a lot.

    The potential harm to the hills community from that single activity outweighs anything Skyline athletes could do by being allowed to jump over well-lit hurdles in November, and then waiting at the corner for their rides home.

    When people wear blinders, they’re vulnerable to missing a number of dangerous things.

  • melanie

    ok, I’m hooked. I just got a computer and I always wondered what “blogging” was. THAT is the main reason I Joined this conversation. Also, I really was confused at why the lights are not used as it seems NECESSARY-no discussion. I don’t like __REACTING- to anything I’m reading here as that does not solve a problem. I appreciate many of the measured and reasonable remarks made and I hope more people put in reasoned responses. I guess I reacted to the impllication that the size of $$$$$ DOES matter. After rereading all the responses I feel very hopeful that most people do understand the centuries old tug of war between the “HAVES” and the “HAVENOTS” MY strong impression is that the HAVES of today are the people who don’t need a paycheck or inheritance to know “the right thing”,,,,,,,and I’ll repeat….I think OUSD needs stronger leadership!

  • Skyline teacher

    This is one of those issues that isn’t nearly as a complicated as folks are making it out to be. A few wealthy families who can afford lawyers are holding a community of several thousand students and their relatives hostage.

    I suggest the parents of athletes pool some cash and hire a sympathetic lawyer to form a lobby group and sue for access based on the Williams Act and other equal opportunity laws. Booster clubs could lead the effort, along with coaches.

    The only thing bureaucracies respond to these days is lawyers.

  • skyline parent

    I completely agree that this is more about behavior and a few neighbors who do not want students in their neighborhood one minute longer than necessary. By restricting the lights, they hoped to restrict access to the school. I live nearby, and those lights (which are off fairly early) do not disturb anyone. And yes, there are often events at Head Royce with bright lights on at night, much closer even to nearby homes than Skyline is. The parents there create huge daily traffic jams on Lincoln, double parking and blocking the street. Somehow or another, there are no restrictions or even traffic enforcement. Hmmmm…

    While it is clear that people in other neighborhoods care about issues, they have not restricted evening access by forcing legal agreements that restrict lighting and thereby activities. Is it a coincidence that the one neighborhood that has done so is affluent and the majority of the students do not live in the neighborhood? That is very unlikely.

    While I think the Williams Act covers many things, unfortunately I don’t think it covers extra-curricular activities. Sadly, it may be necessary for either the district (ha) or parents to hire an attorney to file an injunction against the agreement.

  • Anna Treadwell

    I know I get angry & emotional about this light issue, because I’ve been fighting it for 6 yrs. now. I’m tired because it’s so simple. The lights were installed to be used, right? Let’s use them. They cost a lot of money, why are they being wasted? You know there are teenagers from every social & economic group involved in activities that are being made unsafe by these ridiculous restrictions. If the lights were on, NO ONE is being hurt. With the lights off, the possible damage are ruined dreams, limbs & the knowledge that no one cared enough to put the children first. It’s not about money, flatlands, hills, entitlement, personal opinion, etc. Its about the field at skyline has FOUR lts. like every other fld. & they need to be on for the teenagers to be safe. I appreciate all the comments. Pls. contact the Oakland School Board, OUSD, etc. if you have the time & voice your opinion, they haven’t been listening to me.

  • melanie

    This blogging stuff is amazing!!!!! Each day I check in I get more information and more of a sense of what is going on. Anna says a lot when she admits her frustration at not being heard by OUSD or the school board. I am going to call both parties and “voice and opinion.” thank you…….

  • Nancy

    The lights should remain off at sunset.

    First, Has anyone heard that the State is going broke? Perhaps a few extra hundreds of dollars in cost savings during Standard Time months would be fiscally wise.

    Second, Students have 2+ hours a day after school to practice “on the field” and should find ways to cross- train if any more training is necessary. How about including in the extra practice running from Skyline to the bus stop down the hill near to Lincoln Square, which appears to be a hop-skip-and a jump away?

    Third, I thought High School students started school early so they could leave early to get to some kind of afterschool job and/or community service project?

    There are many ways to cross-train adopt a more flexible attitude rather than demanding it all their way — this is not Burger King!!!

    A few months of alternative working out and practicing is no big deal, consider Daylight Standard time has been extended as well.

    I don’t know how many Oaklanders like the idea of High School age students hanging around their home in any neighborhood. I, for one don’t want any of them hanging around my house, and neither would a single working mother in a gang-banger neighborhood.

    This issue pops up intermittently to “poke” residents because of hate and anger over perceived socio-economic disparity and negativity embedded in the Oakland City culture.