When the International Olympic Committee handed the 2028 Olympic Games to Los Angeles in 2017, the Games floated in confusion in a futuristic fairyland. Eric Garcetti, then mayor of Los Angeles, promised everything but free kittens and unicorns, vowing that the Olympics would “lift up every community in Los Angeles.” Today, five years before the Games, newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is slipping into the same well-worn ruts of Olympic myth-making. Now is the time for Bass and her management to sharpen her focus, get up to speed on the harsh Olympic realities and start asking the IOC tough questions. It’s not too late.
The bass arrives with progressive good faith. His election is meant to herald a fairer city government that is less hostile to working people and the poor, particularly the legions of homeless people. However, when it comes to the 2028 Olympics, Bass has been more of the same, essentially cloning the missteps of his predecessor. She made it clear when she selected Christopher Thompson to be his chief of staff. Prior to being elected, Thompson was the head of government relations for the LA28 Olympic Games organizing committee. Now this “government relations head” is part of the government itself and is indistinguishable from it.
The merger of corporate, Olympic and public power has caused such consternation that questions immediately arose about what role Thompson will play regarding the Olympic organization and city contracts. The Bass administration issued a clipped response, affirming that Thompson “will not be involved in matters related to the Olympic Games during the first year of his service.” In truth, Bass had no choice. She was just sticking to conflict of interest rules in the Ethics Manual for Municipal Officials.
In an age of rampant corruption in Los Angeles city government, ethical guidelines may be refreshing, but how is beginning your involvement in the city’s Olympic planning in 2024 any different than beginning in 2023? Not only is this somewhat arbitrary, but it is also incredible that the mayor’s chief of staff has no say in what will be the largest expenditure of City resources in years. Also, Thompson comes to this job with no Los Angeles City Hall experience. His Olympic connections are a main selling point for the job.
Even more troubling are the mayor’s public statements about Olympic funding. In a mayoral debate, Bass was asked if he could assure Los Angeles taxpayers that they would not back Olympic cost overruns. she fixed unequivocally, “I would absolutely promise that to taxpayers.” The thing is, the city and the state have already agreed to cover cost overruns to the tune of $270 million each.
And let’s be clear: academic research find that every Olympic Games since 1960 has gone over budget. In fact, the cost of the 2028 Games has already surpassed from an estimated $5.3 billion during the offering phase to $6.9 billion just two years later. And that tally doesn’t include billions in security costs. In 2020, Donald Trump sat shoulder to shoulder with LA28 president Casey Wasserman and promised that the security tab would be largely covered by the federal government, in other words, the American taxpayers.
Angelenos may consider Paris, where organizers are ramping up preparations for the 2024 Summer Olympics. In 2017, the International Olympic Committee made a Hail Mary move, simultaneously assigning the 2024 Games to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles. Bidders in both Paris and Los Angeles promised that their Games would circumvent entrenched drawbacks of the Games, such as excessive spending, heightened policing and gentrification. And yet, today in Paris, the Olympic costs are scaledpublic transport costs are shooting upand the French parliament is about to passed an invasive surveillance law. So much to do things differently.
Bass would also do well to reach out to Zev Yaroslavsky, the former Los Angeles council member who oversaw the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. In 2021, appearing on LA radio station KCRW, Yaroslavsky saying of the host city contract that Los Angeles signed with the International Olympic Committee: “No individual in the private sector would ever have signed such a contract. And, in fact, when they brought that contract to the city, I took it…to three of the most capable and competent lawyers in Los Angeles in this field and asked them, ‘What do you think?’ And they said, ‘I would never let my client sign a contract like that.’”
He also noted: “You don’t write a blank check to the International Olympic Committee if you’re a manager of taxpayer money. You just can’t do that.”
Yaroslavsky is right. The IOC cannot be trusted. It is a cartel that ignores the well-founded concerns of the common people in the host city and prioritizes its own profits.
The Olympics tend to induce magical thinking in public officials in the host city, and not in a good way. During one of the mayoral debates, Bass vowed to essentially eliminate homelessness by the time the Los Angeles Games rolled around. state“I do believe that when the Olympics come around in 2028 and I am mayor, there will be no camps.”
This echoes the line Garcetti took on late-night TV: “I’m sure by the time the Olympics come around, we’ll be able to end homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles.” he said.
Bass’s comments drew laughter from the debate attendees, but there is nothing funny about the plain-sighted humanitarian crisis known as homelessness. Declaring a state of emergency for the homeless was a positive first step, but hosting the Olympics will only divert valuable City resources away from this crucial task and into planning an optional sporting extravaganza. Bass has a lot of work ahead of him.
The Olympics are already quietly affecting Los Angeles in other ways, be it on the calendar of the gondola project in chinatown, or retirement plan from the city’s police chief, Michel Moore. In city after city, the Olympic Games realign urban space to benefit the well-connected at the expense of everyone else, and Los Angeles is no exception.
In it recent opening of the official portrait of the former Garcetti, the “LA28” logo was clearly visible in the upper left corner. But Garcetti is no longer running the show. Any fallout from the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics will fall squarely on Bass’s shoulders. Under Garcetti, the Olympics blatantly short-circuited democracy. The city has already ceded too much power to the Olympic machine. It’s time for Mayor Bass to start taking it down.