When I was in law school, required reading was Christopher Stone’s essay: Should Trees Have Standing? –Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, 45 S. Cal. L. Rev. 450 (1972). That essay was cited in Justice Douglas’ dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton, Secretary of the Interior, et al. 405 U.S. 727 (1972) for the proposition that “Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.” The essence of the argument is that “inanimate objects, which are the very core of America’s beauty, have spokesmen before they are destroyed.” The early 70s was the beginning of the environment movement as we know it. Since that time, we citizens have learned to appreciate the beauty of the nature around us. Trees have provided, not only visual beauty, but also have benefits relating to moderating climate, improving air quality, conserving water, and harboring wildlife. Trees are a part of this community’s infrastructure.
Fast forward to 2011
NASA with great fanfare announces, on April 12, 2011, that the California Science Center is one of four institutions chosen to receive a Space Shuttle Orbiter for permanent display. For Los Angeles to display, it was the space shuttle Endeavour which was a great coup for the Science Center and Los Angeles. The planned route is to “leave LAX along Westchester Parkway, head northeast on La Tijera Boulevard, then east on Manchester Boulevard, north on Crenshaw Boulevard and east on West Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the Science Center.”
Depending upon the source of information, various things might occur or not, along this route: power and utilities for route adjacent properties will be turned off during the transport process; street lights and power lines will have to be removed, disconnected or raised during the transport process; various trees, some sickly others majestic, will have to be removed and replace or transplanted; removed trees will be replaced two to one, or added to the city’s tree inventory for placement in areas outside of the directly impacted one, nesting birds and other wildlife will be impacted or not. But this article is about trees, and so that will be the focus.
Tree Removal along the Route and Failure to conduct Environment Evaluation
Leimert Park, was famously designed by the Olmsted Brothers, Frederick Jr. and John, and one of the key features of the city urban plan was the dense planting of trees down the community’s main streets. In order to allow the Shuttle to be transported from LAX to the Science Center in Exposition Park, as many as 102, maybe more, trees – Canary Island Pine, Southern Magnolia, Crimson Bottlebrush, Mexican Fan Palm, London Plane, to name a few – will have to be removed, transplanted or replaced in City Council districts 8 and 10 alone. Additional trees will be impacted in other cities like Inglewood and possibly Westchester.
California’s Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, provides for evaluation – including public notice and input – of projects which may cause a direct physical change in the environment, which the uprooting of trees does do. Yet, 484 days after the NASA announcement and barely 66 days to the time that the Shuttle will be moved on October 12, 2012, and notwithstanding the uprooting of over 100 trees, the California Science Center has failed to meet the primary goal of CEQA which is to “identify and disclose to decision makers and the publicthe significant environmental impacts of a proposed project prior to its consideration and approval.” That goal is reached by the preparation of scoping meetings, initial studies, environmental impact reports or negative declarations under the public’s watchful eye. Even the City of Los Angeles’ own CEQA guidelines, adopted in 2002, incorporate the state guidelines and specifically provide that exemptions do NOT apply when “where the activity will involve removal of a scenic resource including but not limited to a stand of trees, a rock outcropping or an historic building.”
This is clearly a case where trees should have standing.
Written and Photographed by Paula Lauren Gibson
The views expressed herein are my own and not those of my employer!
Space Shuttle Endeavour at the CSC
City of Los Angele’s CEQA Guidelines
NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour Page