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South L.A. shuttle boosters are feeling jettisoned

Residents' excitement turns to anger as officials clamp down on security and significantly reduce public access to the route Endeavour will take from LAX to the California Science Center.

October 04, 2012|By Angel Jennings and Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times
  • Workers lay metal plates at Crenshaw Boulevard and Florence Avenue in preparation for the space shuttle Endeavour's passage through the area en route to the California Science Center.
Workers lay metal plates at Crenshaw Boulevard and Florence Avenue in preparation… (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa touted it as "the mother of all parades" — a historic celebration in a part of Los Angeles that doesn't get much fanfare.

Over two days, on the major thoroughfares of Westchester, Inglewood and South Los Angeles, space shuttle Endeavour would slowly make its way from LAX to its new home at the California Science Center. Community activists planned events, residents said they would line the streets and local businesses organized viewing parties.

But that excitement has turned to anger as officials clamped down on security and significantly reduced public access to the shuttle route. The Los Angeles Police Department announced this week it would close off most sidewalks along the way, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the public to see the shuttle go by.

Though big crowds are still expected, the celebration is being drastically scaled back.

"If it was up to the people moving the Endeavour, they would have the streets absolutely empty," LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman said. "Because of the safety and security and just logistically, it would be much easier to move this without having to worry about crowd movement, crowd management."

Instead, the cities are urging residents to attend two shuttle "celebrations" that are taking place along the route. One event at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood can accommodate up to 14,000 spectators, a fraction of the number of people expected to come out to see the shuttle.

Another, near Baldwin Hills Crenshaw shopping mall, includes a performance choreographed by actor-dancer Debbie Allen. But because the venue can hold a maximum of 3,000 people, organizers are already cutting back on publicity for the event because of fears of overcrowding.

Some South L.A. residents feel double-crossed. To make way for the shuttle, hundreds of old-growth trees were cut down, some more than 60 years old, radically changing the look of some streets. Residents are also going to have to deal with serious traffic delays during the move, which is set for Oct. 12 and 13, as major streets such as Manchester, Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards are periodically shut down.

"It's disgusting that they won't allow the kids to line up along the street and they are cutting down 400 trees," said James Fugate, president of the Leimert Park Merchant Assn. and co-owner of Esowon Bookstore. "They have no respect for the neighborhood they are going through."

That sentiment was shared by others at the bookstore, including Torrence Brannon-Reese, a Leimert Park resident.

"They already put it out there that it is going to be a parade and then they retracted that. Why?" he asked.

Interest in the shuttle has heightened since last month's flyover of California and other states. Just last year, thousands came out when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art moved a giant boulder from the Inland Empire to the Wilshire Boulevard museum, stopping in communities along the way. Many more viewers are expected for the shuttle.

Officials have been trying to reduce expectations for the parade for several weeks.

The shuttle poses many more logistical and safety challenges than the LACMA rock. Los Angeles Police Sgt. Rudy Lopez said the massive spacecraft, which measures 78 feet wide and weighs 170,000 pounds, needs the entire width of the roadways to squeeze through. At some places along the route, the shuttle will be right at the curb, leaving little room for spectators. The shuttle's route requires numerous turns, raising concerns that people on the streets could be hurt with even a minor miscalculation.

There are also worries about the shuttle sustaining damage during the move.

The sidewalks and streets will be closed about a mile ahead of and behind Endeavour as it crawls along the 12-mile route at no more than 2 mph to its new home in Exposition Park.

Residents will be able to watch from their private lawns, inside businesses and along side streets, but it will by no means be a conventional parade. Much of the move, including the beginning, will take place overnight.

And police will be out enforcing the rules. LAPD officials said officers on motorcycles and bicycles would accompany the shuttle and barricade public sidewalks, and helicopters would hover overhead.

"We don't want to tell people to stay away," Neiman said. "But what we want to do is encourage them to go to one of these viewing areas or wait until the shuttle is at the Science Center."

Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph said Thursday that he expects big crowds despite the restrictions.

"I don't think you can possibly tell people, 'Don't come see it,'" he said. "Well, you could, but it's not going to work."

Bringing the behemoth to the city has been a disruption for the residents in the working-class communities. Not only did they lose their trees, but some local businesses will be inconvenienced.

"They are closing streets on the busiest day of the week," Fugate said. "To shut down access to businesses for any period of time will affect business. And they are cutting down our trees!"

Officials promised to replant twice as many trees as were removed — and, in some cases, four times as many. But to some residents, the biggest consolation for all the inconvenience was to host what the mayor and others billed as a two-day parade.

"They are the only ones not calling it a parade," said Johnnie Raines, 66, a South L.A. resident. "It's been described as a parade from the beginning. The people are going to determine what it is. You can't write a rule down and say it's not a parade."

angel.jennings@latimes.com

kate.mather@latimes.com

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