LOS ANGELES - It was supposed to be a spectacular event including a two-day parade, but space shuttle Endeavour's final 12-mile journey through the streets of South Los Angeles has some residents protesting, because 400 trees would have to be chopped down to clear the shuttle's intended path from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center.
Although the science center, or CSC, where Endeavour is to go on display, said would plant twice as many trees in their place, tree lovers are still not convinced.
Claudine Jasmin, a resident of South Los Angeles, said she goes to the CSC all the time and loves having it in the neighborhood, but does not think it's worth losing the trees. She said they bring squirrels and a variety of birds.
"My parents have lived in this neighborhood since before I was born, and we have these big pine trees on our street, and I'm sure it took forever for them to grow. They are beautiful," Jasmin said. "It would be really, really horrendous to see all these years of a tree's growth completely diminished for one parade."
Eddie North-Hager, publisher of Leimertparkbeat.com, a local online news and social network, said despite the loss of trees, Endeavour's arrival will be a good thing for the neighborhood.
"There is a lot of concern over street trees and everyone wants to work to make sure they are replaced and taken care of and have the same caretaking as there is now," North-Hager said. "Everyone is concerned that baby trees will replace trees that have been there forever … I do hope they put in more than saplings and do expect they will take care of them until they reach a maturity where they can take care of themselves."
Endeavour, built after the loss of the shuttle Challenger in 1986, 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 Endeavour is a historic national treasure and will assist in our city's economic revitalization and education," CSC President Jeffery Rudolph said. "Most importantly, having Endeavour in Los Angeles, at the California Science Center will inspire current and future generations of innovators and explorers."
Endeavour needs to be towed from the airport to the museum. Planners said they chose wide streets and minimized obstacles, because power lines will be extended and traffic signals cleared from the shuttle's path.
But according to an estimate in the Los Angeles Times, 128 trees will be removed in the city of Inglewood and South Los Angeles will lose approximately 265 trees. Pine, ficus and other trees in Inglewood have already been chopped down by construction crews.
"I think our neighborhood loves the CSC and owes a great deal of our children's education to that institution and it's free to go there," North-Hager said. "It's one of the five shuttles in the country and it's amazing that we are getting that and that it's going to our neighborhood. We love our street trees and it's one of the things that makes Leimert Park so special. It's my understanding that CSC is going to remove the least possible."
Rudolph confirmed that the CSC is focusing on trees that are already marked for removal by the city.
"In many areas the Endeavour project is removing trees already being considered for removal in the master plans of Inglewood and safety and transportation plans in Los Angeles," he said. "We chose routes with this in mind. This includes 91 trees near LAX adjacent to the airport fence."
Rudolph explained that in the beginning, they considered taking apart the orbiter, using a helicopter or finding a freeway alternative, but says none of those options were feasible. Instead, they are using a state-of-the art "Endeavour Transportation System" that will allow them to maneuver precisely around trees, light poles and utility poles.
In total, the CSC said it plans to spend $500,000 to improve the city streets. Replanting of trees is expected to begin a few weeks after Endeavour's final journey.
But some residents are still not convinced.
"I don't think replanting is enough to cover up the void that would be around after these trees are cut down," Jasmin said. "There are kids and families in this neighborhood that are used to seeing these trees every day, and waiting years for them to grow back the way they were would be too disheartening."