Los Angeles has learned the lessons of its own history. Hosting the Olympic Games for any municipality can be a financially precarious, high wire walk across the tightrope. Yet if staged with fiscal prudence, the Games can infuse a city with two weeks of inspiration, excitement and a brief moment of international cooperation.
Recent events have tipped the scales toward the International Olympic Committee awarding the 2024 Games to Paris and the ’28 Games to Los Angeles. Our city’s dream has been delayed, but not denied. Observers may focus on how Los Angeles can use the extra four years to complete its rapid transit and airport improvements. That’s not the issue. The real skill will be how the private organizing group, Los Angeles 2024, aside from its own re-naming, can extract benefits from the IOC. Los Angeles’ wait has to be rewarded.
As Chief of Staff to Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Ronka, I had a small, but I would like to think meaningful, role in Los Angeles’ success in hosting the 1984 Olympic Games. I assisted in drafting the City Council Motion that resulted in the 1980 City Charter Amendment. It was Ronka’s Amendment that imposed strict financial controls to allow the city to resist International Olympic Committee demands for the “blank check” they typically extract from other cities. As a result, the ‘84 Olympics generated a $200 million surplus.
Current mayor Eric Garcetti has skillfully avoiding the pitfalls of past Olympic Games where cities built extravagant venues or housing. In 1976 Montreal incurred a $1.4 billion deficit and in 2016 Rio de Janiero constructed a Housing Village that is now a ghost town; the $370 million renovated Maracana Stadium is abandoned, and its swimming pools are filled with orange water.
The current Los Angeles bid has a $5.3 billion budget, and even a two percent “miss” on increased costs would equal $100 million. The Los Angeles bid is structured to avoid the three pillars of past Olympic financial failures: constructing multiple new and expensive venues, developing new housing for the athletes and building new, and costly infrastructure.
Southern California’s existing venues, or those in the pipeline, can host every Olympic sporting event. Reliance on existing venues dodges the most prominent cause of past Olympic financial calamities. Los Angeles’ decision to house athletes at existing UCLA dormitories is far more prudent than the initial plan to construct an Olympic Village along the Los Angeles River. Los Angeles City and County voters approved sales tax increases to expand the improving public transportation system.
Los Angeles 2024 has tended to the details, but the talented Mayor Garcetti has been the public face. Check out social media to witness his charm in greeting IOC members upon their arrival at LAX to commence a tour of the city.
The final test for Los Angeles will be negotiating the contracts which divide the revenue from sponsorships and television. Since Los Angeles has stood firm on the typical IOC demands for new venue, the city needs the same resolve in the allocation of revenues.
Mayor Garcetti and I share the odd coincidence of both of our weddings were being officiated by the same California elected official Zev Yaroslavsky. The Mayor and I share a love for all the Olympics represent. In 2028, come to Los Angeles, where in homage to the current 50 year celebration of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, if fiscally prudent, the Games will ensure, ‘a splendid time is guaranteed for all.’