Who Wins (and Who Loses) When the 2028 Olympics Come to Town?

To borrow a sports adage, the City Council's unanimous vote on Friday to endorse the 2028 Olympic bid wasn't pretty but they'll take it.

The council already had approved the Olympic bid earlier this year — for the 2024 Games. But the 2024 Games went to Paris with L.A. agreeing to wait for 2028, a turn of events that necessitated new approval from the city.

The L.A. 2028 bid committee's budget and independent analysis was for 2024, and there wasn't time to revise the numbers; the International Olympic Committee had imposed a deadline of Aug. 18 for L.A. to agree to terms of its financial responsibilities as a host city.

With the vote on Friday, the city became the guarantor in the event of cost overruns for the $5.3 billion worldwide sports extravaganza. But economists who study Olympic bids have had good things to say about the L.A. bid committee's budget. Of course, a lot can change from 2024 to 2028. Or, as the city wrote in a report issued earlier this week, “The additional four years (eleven years total) adds uncertainty concerning future global, national, and local economic and political conditions.”

No, the mad dash at the end wasn't pretty. But Los Angeles will now join London and Paris as the only cities to play host to three Olympic Games — in this case, the 1932, 1984 and 2028 iterations.

So without further ado, here's a mad-dash forecast of our own — one that breaks down the likely winners and losers 11 years down the road, once the torch is lit and the Games begin.

Opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics
Opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics
Wikimedia Commons

1. Local Law Enforcement: Winner

Fun fact: The Olympic Committee for the 1984 Games paid about $11.7 million out-of-pocket for Los Angeles police security services, according to a report issued by the city; adjusted for inflation, that would be about $27.5 million in 2017.

"The Olympics is like a private ATM machine for the police," says Jules Boykoff, a political science professor at Pacific University in Oregon who has studied Olympic planning in London, Vancouver and Río de Janeiro.

Though the 2028 L.A. bid will enlist large contingents of sheriff’s deputies from Los Angeles and adjacent counties, as well as police from numerous local jurisdictions, the Games are classified as a National Special Security Event, which means the Secret Service would be the lead federal agency in charge of event security, the FBI would take the lead on intelligence and counter-terrorism, and FEMA would take the lead on incident response management.

As a result, the vast majority of Olympics security costs — as much as 95 percent — is covered by the federal government, according to Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in Massachusetts. In all, the U.S. government would devote “thousands of its personnel and potentially tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of support to a Los Angeles Games,” according to a report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. As the OC Register reported, the federal funding to cover security costs for a Los Angeles Olympics could reach as much as $2 billion.

So what would the LAPD do with its Olympic chunk of change?

The investment in security for the '84 Olympics netted a windfall to LAPD, devoted in part to militarize the police force for the war on crime in the years that followed, writes Max Felker-Kantor, author of the forthcoming book Battle for the Streets: Policing, Politics, and Power in Los Angeles. Writing in the Washington Post, Felker-Kantor noted:

The LAPD used its federally allocated Olympic budget to buy an arsenal of machine guns, infrared-enhanced viewing devices and a radio system for its SWAT teams. The department also deployed spatially targeted policing operations for Olympic security in 1984. To do so they fast-tracked a new wave of recruits through training to conduct what Commander William Rathburn, the LAPD’s Olympic coordinator and future director of the gang and drug sweep program, called an “unprecedented” crime-fighting project.

2. Sports Venues: Winner

A hallmark of the Los Angeles Olympic bid is the city's abundance of already-existing (or soon to be built) venues in the city. The IOC has taken heat in the past for high cost overruns from Games hosted in cities like Río and Beijing, where required investment in new infrastructure projects went way over budget.

Greater L.A. has the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Stubhub Center, The Forum and the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the stadium under construction in Inglewood to host the L.A. Rams and Chargers will be complete long before 2028. Even so, some L.A. venues are likely to require improvements to bring them up to Olympic standards .

As for how much any of this will cost, the devil's in the details. As a State Legislative Analyst’s Office report points out, Los Angeles sports venues typically are privately operated, and their operators rely on “a range of cost or revenue-recovery arrangements rather than fixed rents.”

Translation: No one has any way of knowing exactly how much these venues will be paid until the venue agreements are negotiated and signed about 18 months from now.

What is known is that the Velo Sports Center velodrome in Carson is slated for "extensive" permanent upgrades for the Olympics at an estimated cost of $66 million, according to a report by the Los Angeles bid committee. The velodrome will host Olympic and Paralympic track cycling events during the Games.

The 2028 bid proposes to pay 100 percent of any Olympic overlay, such as installing a temporary track at the Coliseum or grandstands for equestrian events, says Jeff Millman, communications director for the bid. The only permanent upgrades covered by the proposed bid would be those at the velodrome.

Who Wins (and Who Loses) When the 2028 Olympics Come to Town?
LA2024

3. Low-Income Residents Near Olympic Venues: Loser

The Olympics tend to make certain neighborhoods in host cities less affordable in the long-term, especially areas near stadiums, says Zimbalist, the Smith College economist. “They clean out low-income neighborhoods in order to build infrastructure. They bring services into the area. You often get gentrification, which leads to higher rents.”

Zimbalist adds that because the L.A. Olympic venues will be preexisting stadiums, the gentrification might not be as extreme as in other host cities. But he says there will still be gentrification.

Four years after the 2012 London Games, a story in The Independent found:

When the athletes have returned to their home countries to a hero’s welcome and the crowds have dispersed, communities are left to live with the legacy of the Olympic Games. In London, this meant high investment in the areas’ infrastructure, facilities and new housing projects. But it also meant an irreversible increase in property prices and displacement   

Larry Keating, a Georgia Tech urban planning professor who studied the impact of the 1996 Games on Atlanta’s low-income housing population, told the Huffington Post: “The Olympics provided the cover for the destruction” of low-income communities in that city.

With multiple Olympic sports venues in South L.A. and Inglewood, the populations there are likely to weather changes similar to those experienced by the people of East London post-2012 and Atlanta post-1996.

What's more, L.A. doesn't have the greatest track record of looking out for the interests of residents who live near Olympic venues. Felker-Kantor wrote of one unfortunate legacy of the ‘84 Olympics:

As Los Angeles officials prepared for the 1984 Olympics, they were not concerned about the fate of African American or Latino youths living in neighborhoods devastated by an economic recession, unemployment rates that had topped 40 percent or a growing drug epidemic. Rather, they focused on combating the international attention that drug-related crime and rising gang violence had brought to the city. Such attention, officials feared, would ruin the image of Los Angeles as a city of the future and gateway to the Pacific Rim.

4. Homeless People: Loser

If optics, branding and image are paramount considerations for the host city, then what is L.A. going to do if the homelessness crisis does not dramatically improve in the 11 years until the opening ceremonies?

L.A. is starting a $1.2 billion homeless housing construction program. But if high rents, low housing vacancy rates and certain kinds of evictions continue to rise as they have in the last few years, the city's high homeless numbers could persist — and that could be a blow to the city's image on the world stage.

"What you see is a certain pressure that mounts to try to create the image of the Olympic city as world-class city," Boykoff says. "They're banking on ticket sales and tourism, and they're basically going to cleanse the area of any riffraff whatsoever that would cut into their profits and image."

Boykoff cited the LAPD's “Olympic Gang Sweeps” under chief Daryl Gates as a potential precedent. Thousands of young black men were jailed in 1984 — ostensibly to minimize gang crime during the Games.

5. Metro: Winner

Now that the L.A. Games have moved from 2024 to 2028, Metro is out of the hot seat. The transportation authority had previously committed to fast-track construction on a subway to the Westside and a rail connection to Los Angeles International Airport and finish both a mere six weeks before the start of the 2024 Games. Had Metro failed to complete the projects, especially the Westwood phase of the Purple Line Extension, it could have snarled the transportation plan of the organizing committee.

UrbanizeLA notes that the four-year breathing room "will also give LAX additional time to construct its new automated people mover."

As the Legislative Analyst's Office report states:

Four more years would mean more time for Los Angeles to complete its ambitious public transportation infrastructure plans, which would help achieve the Games’ transit goals. Some also have suggested that the IOC could “sweeten the deal” by providing more money to the 2028 host.

6. Transparency and Public Accountability: Loser

"There is a clash of democracy and Olympic exigency at work here," Boykoff says of the City Council's hurried vote yesterday. "The Los Angeles bid committee is rushing along like a greyhound chasing a mechanical rabbit, going right along with the IOC's timeline."

One immediate problem with the fast-track approval is that state funding to cover $250 million in cost overruns has yet to be approved.

In its proposal for the 2024 Games, the L.A. bid committee assembled a procedure for covering cost overruns in which "the City of Los Angeles would cover the first $250 million of any cost overrun, the State of California would cover the next $250 million, and the City of Los Angeles would cover any remaining cost overrun.” But as a recent Legislative Analyst's Report noted, the state's portion was only authorized for the 2024 Games, and requires separate approval for the Games in 2028 (though State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon have sent the City Council letters expressing support).

The rush to approve has some Angelenos concerned. As Jonny Coleman, an organizer with NOlympics LA, which opposes the bid, wrote in the L.A. Times:

How can anyone claim full confidence in the Games’ financial success without a budget?

The bid committee doesn’t plan on submitting a budget for 2028 until 2019, two years after the City Council signs a binding agreement. This is financial brinkmanship at its ugliest. Tokyo, which will host the Summer 2020 Games, is already roughly $8 billion over budget, nearly twice its original estimate, and its Games are still three years away.

Indeed, the Games are 11 years away, and L.A. is the IOC's only viable option for 2028 — so what's the rush?

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