"Space exploration events are like the Olympics; everyone just feels good," Inglewood Mayor James Butts said at a triumphant press conference on the September 20 arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour.
And the spacecraft's 12-mile trip from LAX to the California Science Center on October 13, added L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, would "be a marvel of wonder and ingenuity."
But one ingenious path-clearing tactic has residents along the shuttle route, as well as local environmentalists, feeling not so good:
City officials in Los Angeles and Inglewood have reportedly agreed to chop down nearly 400 sidewalk trees that stand in the way of Endeavour's arresting 78-foot wingspan.
(They've also agreed to dismantle hundreds of traffic signals, street signs and utility lines, but seeing as those are inanimate objects -- and seeing as the California Science Center will reimburse local governments for the hassle -- the, uh, traffic-signal activists have yet to come forward.)
"They are cutting down these really big, majestic trees," says Lark Galloway-Gilliam, Leimert Park resident and member of the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council, in today's Los Angeles Times. "It will be beyond my lifetime before they will be tall like this again."
Environmental blog Treehugger.com has since taken notice, writing: "We often get to write about the ways that technology is helping to protect nature, but occasionally those two things are at odds."
Although the California Science Center has agreed to plant two trees for every one cut down, critics say it will take decades for them to reach the same majesty -- and provide the same shade cover -- as the ones being sacrificed for the incoming space wonder.
"I just don't ever think it's a good idea to cut down a tree -- it's kind of sacrilegious," Heather Presha, a realtor in the Crenshaw area, tells L.A. Weekly. She is, however, glad that L.A. City Hall is finally paying some attention to the overgrown trees along Crenshaw, which she says "have needed trimming for years."
Presha finds this mass clearing to be quite telling of the city's priorities: "We haven't been able to get anybody over here to trim those trees," she says. "But now that the space shuttle is coming, they want to cut them all down."
Here's a map of the shuttle's exact path through Inglewood and L.A., including a few miles on Manchester Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard.
View Larger Map
And here's a list of the exact trees that will be sheared in anticipation of the Endeavour's big road trip. (Or at least the ones within the city of Los Angeles. Another 128 will reportedly get the ax in Inglewood.) Click on any one of them, and you'll get the message: "THIS MATTER IS CURRENTLY NOT SCHEDULED FOR A PUBLIC HEARING."
"Nobody told the citizens," one Inglewood woman said on KNX news radio this morning. "All we hear is the buzz-saws when we wake up." Gruesome photos in the Times illustrate her pain: Big leafy giants that took decades to mature, now bent at the stump along Manchester.
Sylvia Hill, another Inglewood resident, told ABC7 a couple weeks ago that "it's really hard to watch something that's been growing for over 100 years being just decimated down to the root just for one day."
According to the Times, California Science Center officials considered several other shuttle transport options before deciding that the trees would have to go:
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Taking the massive shuttle apart would have damaged the delicate tiles that acted as heat sensors. Airlifting the 170,000-pound craft was also ruled out. Not even heavy-duty helicopters could sustain that kind of weight, Rudolph said.
A freeway route was considered until engineers realized that the five-story-tall, 78-foot-wide shuttle could not travel under overpasses.
"We had to identify a route that had no permanent infrastructures like buildings and bridges," Rudolph said.
So instead of minorly damaging the shuttle's "delicate tiles that acted as heat sensors" (which serve no real purpose, now that the Endeavour is retired), the center decided to take out hundreds of resident trees -- who have the grave misfortune of not being considered "permanent infrastructures."
Update: We should take this opportunity to recall Mayor Villaraigosa's promise, circa 2006, to plant 1 million trees throughout Los Angeles. So far, we haven't been able to count more than a handful, and the mayor's "Million Trees L.A." website certainly isn't keeping track. Now, technically, this Endeavour debacle will add a few hundred trees to his record -- but should these new guys really count, when we had to assassinate so many beloved elders in the process?