Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Los Angeles welcomes Endeavour space shuttle; says goodbye to hundreds of trees

By Natasha Hunkins

400 trees including mature pines, sycamores and magnolias will be cut down this weekend to clear the way for the transportation of the Endeavour space shuttle from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center (CSC).

The 57-feet tall, 78-feet-wide retired space shuttle will make a 12-mile journey through the streets of Los Angeles and Inglewood by way of a state-of-the-art transportation system to Exposition Park where it will be on display in the CSC.

The Los Angeles Department of Public Works approved the removal of trees that interfere with the shuttle’s path, including 128 trees from the city of Inglewood, 119 trees from South Los Angeles, 124 trees from Westchester and the remaining trees from LAX property.

According to reports made by the CSC, many of the trees to be removed in Los Angeles are small trees less than 15-feet -tall. Fifty-four of the trees are larger, a few of which will be transplanted.

Currently, the CSC is focusing on trees that are already marked for removal by the city. Ficus, bottle brush, coral and other full-grown trees in Inglewood have already been cut down by construction crews.

While the CSC has vowed to to plant twice as many trees, the tree-clearing plan has stirred much debate as many are concerned that the size and scope of the project is in violation of the city’s municipal code.

According to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), it requires that any city project which "may have a significant effect on the environment" gain approval from the Environmental Impact Report (EIR); a document investigating the project's effects on the environment, both natural and urban.

The CSC has failed however, to comply with the CEQA.

Carl Morgan, member of the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council, is shocked that the city is allowing the CSC to go through with such a large plan without following proper procedure. “The EIR is an important document that is key to monitoring proposals that might jeopardize the city’s beauty and preservation,” Morgan stated. “Bypassing the EIR will cause our city to lose decades-old trees that are irreplaceable.”

The CSC claims that alternative transportation methods including dismantling the space shuttle or airlifting it were considered but not feasible.

 In the process of towing the space shuttle to the museum, power lines will be raised, traffic lights removed and light posts and signs displaced.

The Endeavor was built after the loss of the shuttle Challenger in 1986 and became NASA’s fifth space shuttle orbiter. It made its first flight in 1992 and in its 25 missions, it orbited the Earth more than 4,600 times and spent 299 days in space. The space shuttle is also the first and and only NASA shuttle named by elementary and grade school students.

Ani Grumman, publisher of the online petition to “Stop 400 Majestic Trees Being Chopped for Shuttle Endeavour’s Path, is disheartened by the fact that “the project was sprung on Los Angeles and surrounding cities without any real form of public notice or involvement.” The petition currently has 300 signatures. Grumman went on to state that “the CEQA Act was completely ignored, how is this legal?

Jeffery Rudolph, CSC president, insists that the tree-clearing process has long-term benefits for Los Angeles. 768 trees will be planted, he confirmed, including some large box trees, and none of the trees to be removed is a heritage tree or a native tree. In addition, Rudolph revealed that the CSC plans to spend $500,000 to improve the city streets.

Los Angeles resident Nadine Esparza is saddened by the impending loss of so many trees. “The trees chosen for removal in my neighborhood are not as small and tiny as the reports are suggesting,” she said, “they are large and beautiful and add color to the city."

Replanting of the trees is expected to begin a few weeks before the Endeavour exhibit opens to the public.

The museum’s exhibit, Endeavour: The California Story will open Oct. 30. In addition to the shuttle, the exhibit will feature images, artifacts and video experiences of the shuttle’s missions.

Esparza went on to add, “My sons love picking up fall colored leaves from the trees that line the pathway to our neighborhood park. Sadly, they won’t be there this fall.” 

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