The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that any project which “may have a significant effect on the environment” be prefaced by an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) — an often lengthy document investigating the project's possible effects on both the natural environment and on the urban environment humans have created.

So the bulldozing of a 268 full-grown trees in L.A. and Inglewood, to make way for the California Science Center's prized new space shuttle Endeavour, seems an obvious candidate.

Yet the Science Center, obsessed with its setting up its new NASA exhibit as soon as possible…

… never wrangled the project through the EIR process. And perhaps more importantly, the Los Angeles Department of Public Works never forced them to do so.

At a Board of Public Works meeting today that was more procedural than open-forum, five city commissioners gave final approval for the Science Center to clear out 265 trees in the way of Endeavour's impressive 78-foot wingspan. According to the Los Angeles Times, that sum includes 119 in South L.A., 124 in Westchester and the rest on LAX property. (Also, 128 in Inglewood. But Harry Frisdy, director of the Inglewood Pubilc Works Department, tells L.A. Weekly that he waived the Endeavour's EIR process because replacing all the old ficus trees along the median of Manchester Boulevard was already part of the city's master plan.)

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Los Angeles has no such excuse. Since when did hundreds of trees rooted in a residential area — including “majestic,” decades-old pines and magnolias that pump oxygen into the neighborhood and provide much-needed shade during 100-degree heat waves like this one — not qualify as environmental impactors?

Lark Galloway-Gilliam, Leimert Park resident and member of the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council, is baffled by the city's blatant disregard for the EIR process.

The unstoppable Jeffrey Rudolph.; Credit: California Science Center

The unstoppable Jeffrey Rudolph.; Credit: California Science Center

She wonders how, considering “the size and scope of the project, the fact that there's so many trees involved, and the fact that trees are such an environmental and economic factor,” the Science Center was able to breeze right past CEQA.

“You can't replace a 60-foot tree with a little boxed tree — a twig — and say that that's the equivalent,” Galloway-Gilliam told L.A. Weekly earlier this month.

When the Endeavour's controversial route came to her attention “by accident” in June, she says she convinced California Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph to come by a neighborhood council meeting and answer some of the community's burning questions. According to Galloway-Gilliam, Rudolph claimed during that appearance that the California Science Center Foundation Board of Trustees was behind the decision to pass up an EIR (which the local activist says would have “triggered community hearings and the like”).

We've contacted Public Works and the California Science Center for confirmation and further explanation.

But the board in question, for the record, is a total who's-who of 1 percenters in Los Angeles, including CEO Ken McBride, the Annenburgs and a rep for Bank of America. Not exactly the type of money-minded suits you'd want deciding between a glittering new tourist attraction and a leafy canopy in a poor L.A. neighborhood.

Rudolph, California Science Center president and the face of this whole debacle, insisted at the Public Works meeting today that the tree-clearing will be great for L.A. in the long run. Via City News Service:

To replace them, Rudolph said 768 trees would be planted, including some large box trees — countering claims that mature shade trees would be replaced with saplings.

He also said, “None of the trees to be removed is a heritage tree or a native tree.''

But many none of those claims have been backed up by scientists or a study, as an EIR would require. Instead, Rudolph keeps throwing out random numbers and promises in hopes that the community rage meter will sink just low enough to avoid a costly, time-consuming lawsuit.

And he picked just the right low-income stretch of Manchester and Crenshaw for minimum resistance. Because as we've learned, no amount of party favors could ever convince residents and politicians in, say, forever-outraged Beverly Hills that the lives of their longtime tree friends were worth a one-time road trip for a space relic.

An online petition to “STOP 400 Majestic Trees being Chopped for Shuttle Endeavour's Path” has racked up 284 signatures. But that's barely one metaphorical tree-sitter per tag — likely not enough to counter the multimillion-dollar interests of the California Science Center.

“Leimert Park is a national treasure, too,” resident Keven Brown reportedly said at today's meeting. “… I'm all for the science, but there has to be a better way.”

[@simone_electra / / @LAWeeklyNews]

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