Note: This letter was issued to city leaders Tuesday when the city council was set to vote on related Olympic items.
Dear Mayor Garcia and Long Beach City Council Members,
We write to you as residents of the City of Long Beach who are opposed to the City government’s participation in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 2028 (“LA 2028”). We urge to you postpone voting on today’s so-called “8 by 28” proposal, for which there is no rush, and instead host an open discussion with current Long Beach residents about whether they want to participate in LA 2028 at all and how that participation will impact the City. We believe that were City officials to allow such a discussion to take place, they would do something that they have heretofore been unwilling to do: consider the possible negative effects that hosting the Olympics will have on Long Beach parking, public transit, traffic, affordable housing and homelessness, and the City budget. We also believe that City spending on infrastructure projects like “8 by 28” could be better spent on more pressing human needs.
The People of Long Beach Did Not Give Their Support to Hosting the Olympics
There has never been an open and inclusive public discussion about whether the people of Long Beach want to host the Summer Olympics. The City passed enabling legislation that entered the City into an agreement with the “LA 2024 Exploratory Committee (LA 2024)” on September 20, 2016 and February 21, 2017, but this legislation was presented as a “done deal” with little prior advertising and was voted on unanimously without sufficient discussion about the potential costs that hosting the Olympics will have on residents of Long Beach. These proposals effectively gave the City Manager carte blanche to implement the games without any oversight by the Council beyond a vague promise to recoup costs.
We are not opposed to sports or to the Olympics. But we are opposed to undemocratic decision-making. And we believe that if Long Beach residents were made fully aware of the potential costs of the Summer Olympics, they would likely reject participating in LA 2028.
Problem #1: Likelihood of Cost Overruns that Will Hurt California Taxpayers
According to a widely-cited study in 2016 by academics in the Business School at Oxford University, the average cost of hosting an Olympic game between 2004 and 2015 was roughly
$8.9 billion, “not including road, rail, airport, and hotel infrastructure, which often cost more than the Games themselves.” The study also found that cost overruns are the norm: between 1960 and 2014, the average Summer game host committee went approximately 157 percent over budget. And the International Olympic Committee requires host cities to cover all overruns.
The proposal by the LA 2028 Committee ignores this history completely. Its bid asserts that because the Los Angeles Olympics ran a budget surplus in 1984, and because Los Angeles can use existing facilities instead of new ones, that it can contain costs and avoid budget deficits entirely. At no point does the Committee’s bid reckon with the fact that the games have changed substantially in the more than 30 years since Los Angeles last hosted the Olympics. Instead, it asserts that Los Angeles can host the Summer Olympics while spending $4.8 billion, less than half the average cost that other recent host cities have incurred. And it promises to produce a budget surplus by raising $5.3 billion in revenue through corporate sponsorships.
If there are cost overruns, or if Olympic fundraising falls short of its goals, or both, the taxpayers of the City of Los Angeles, and to some degree the State of California, will ultimately be on the hook. The City plans to raise $488 million in reserves, backstopped by the State of California providing an additional $250 million if the City’s reserves are depleted. But these reserves would cover a cost overrun of just 15 percent, when the average cost overrun is ten times that.
At a time when California’s public schools are grossly underfunded, and its public transit system woefully underdeveloped, and the future of MediCal (which 30% of California residents rely on) is uncertain because of threats to undermine the Affordable Care Act, we are extremely concerned that LA 2028 has underestimated the costs of hosting the games in the 21st century, overestimated its ability to fundraise, and thereby put the funding sources for essential public services at risk.
Problem #2: Displacement of Tenants by Tourists, Followed by Gentrification
Anywhere the Olympic games go, they drive up housing costs and displace low and fixed-income tenants. According to a 2007 report by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), “In the gentrification process that accompanies many Olympic projects, the ‘unsightly’ or ‘undesirable’ housing stock that is demolished is often the city’s supply of social or low cost housing. Such housing is replaced by housing for middle- to upper-income earners, a process which tends to reduce the supply of social and/or low cost housing, at precisely the time when the other pressures outlined above are resulting in a greater than ever need for this kind of housing.” For instance, as part of Barcelona hosting the Olympic games in 1992, the cost of rental housing there increased by 149 percent.
Southern California is not prepared to meet this kind of challenge, and is already facing one of the greatest affordable housing crises in the United States. From San Diego to Los Angeles, from Ventura to Riverside, more than 50 percent of all renters are “rent-burdened” because more than 30 percent of their income goes to pay rent. At the same time, over 50 percent of all homes in Los Angeles and about 27 percent of all homes in Long Beach are valued at over $1 million.
So the obvious question is: where are the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Southern California to participate, manage, and watch the Olympic games going to stay?
The original LA 2024 bid to the IOC estimated that at least 37 percent (10,000 out of 27,000) of all rooms available for visitor accomodations within 10 kilometers of the games would be provided through AirBnB. As the bid stated, “local Angelenos will open their homes to all spectators and Games clients through offerings like Airbnb – a California-based company that has revolutionized the concept of home share and home rental. Airbnb hosts are a strong representation of the people of Los Angeles: diverse, welcoming, and hospitable.”
AirBnB has significantly exacerbated the affordable housing crisis in Southern California, and the LA 2028 plan to rely on it will facilitate a massive displacement of low and moderate income Southern California residents to make way for wealthy tourists. According to a 2015 study by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), contrary to the image that AirBnB presents of itself, two thirds of all units offered on the site in Los Angeles were detached and not shared; 48 percent of all units were leased out by rental management companies; and 89 percent of all revenue generated in Los Angeles via AirBnB went to off-site “hosts”. As a result, at least 7,316 housing units were taken off the long-term housing market in the City of Los Angeles by AirBnB before 2016, which is “equivalent to seven years of affordable housing construction in Los Angeles.” The Olympics will take this problem in Los Angeles and make it exponentially worse.
Here in Long Beach, as Council Member Pearce’s office has identified, we face similar problems at a lesser scale. Almost 60 percent of all AirBnB listings in Long Beach– over 600 units– are stand-alone housing units that are illegally being rented out as short-term rentals. These units have been taken off the rental housing market for Long Beach residents at a time when, according to Zillow, the average rent of a one bedroom apartment in the Alamitos Beach neighborhood increased by about a third between March, 2015 and March, 2017, and (according to ApartmentList.com) average rent citywide has gone up 13 percent in the last two years. We need to be focusing not just on building new housing units, but also keeping families in the homes that they can currently afford. LA 2028’s reliance on AirBnb will further drive rents up and drive current Long Beach residents out of their homes.
Once landlords evict long-term tenants and “renovate” their apartments to cater to the short-term housing needs of those attending or working for the 2028 Olympics, the likelihood is that much of that housing (especially near our beaches) will not return to long-term rentals that meet the needs of Long Beach residents. Instead, landlords will continue to seek higher rents by catering to Southern California’s tourist economy. This shift will constrain housing supply and further drive up rents. Even those units that are converted back to long-term rentals will have higher rental costs because of their upgrades, making the displacement of middle and lower-income people by the Olympics permanent, and thereby accelerating gentrification. This problem could be worse in Long Beach than in Los Angeles, because Long Beach has no rent control protections.
Problem # 3: The Militarization of the Region’s Police
Hosting the Olympic games will militarize our police and put them under federal control as part of the U.S. government’s never ending War on Terror. The Olympics are, according to the LA 2024 bid, considered a “National Special Security Event (NSSE) by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” They will be policed not by local agencies, but by the “California Olympic and Paralympic Public Safety Command (COPPSC)”, an inter-governmental organization led by the U.S. Secret Service. In addition, between 4-5,000 U.S. military personnel will be on call in case of national defense problems. This militarization of local police during the Olympics is likely to negatively impact the civil liberties of the people of Southern California– especially poor people, people of color, immigrants and protesters.
Most cities that host the Olympic games punish and displace homeless people instead of housing them before the games take place. According to the New York Times, the City of Atlanta had a 400% increase in tickets handed out to homeless people in the year prior to the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Racial profiling also goes hand in glove with the kind of “broken windows” policing that usually accompanies the hosting of Olympic games. According to the sports writer David Zirin, the Los Angeles Police Department’s move into “Olympic mode” in the lead up to the 1984 Olympics institutionalized its aggressive policing of poor black and brown neighborhoods. As a result, “from 1984–89, there was a 33 percent spike in citizen complaints against police brutality.” With the Long Beach Police Department already ranked the 10th deadliest in the nation over the last 5 years by Mapping Police Violence, we fear the consequences that hosting the Olympics will have on Long Beach’s majority minority population.
We are especially concerned about the possibility that increases in racial profiling and the policing of the visibly poor may overlap with the federal deportation machine. California is home to roughly 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom live in Southern California. ICE increasingly targeted undocumented Cambodian immigrants in the last few months of 2017– a crackdown that impacts the large Cambodian community in Long Beach. Local law enforcement has collaborated in the general attack on immigrants rights as well. In 2016, CSU Long Beach Police stopped José Alvarez one mile off campus for a broken tail light and deported him before his family even had time to get an attorney. Between November, 2016 and July, 2017, the Long Beach Police Department gave Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers access to the Department’s license plate database 278 times. To this day, the Long Beach City Council has yet to pass a Sanctuary City bill, despite widespread popular support for doing so. With ICE participating in the COPPSC that will manage security for the Olympics, even police departments that don’t overtly target immigrants with extra policing may end up sharing information with ICE in ways that assist it with breaking up families and ruining lives.
Finally, in the name of security, LA 2028 will systematically violate what we believe to be people’s First Amendment rights. The original bid stated that “The City will designate a ‘no-go’ zone inside the fence of all LA 2024 Competition and Non-Competition Venues, in which no protests or acts of civil disobedience will be permitted. Designated free speech zones would be established outside the perimeter.” Such “free speech zones” tend to be far away from major events, nullifying any attempt to communicate with spectators.
Problem # 4: Transportation Nightmare
Long Beach residents would be surprised to learn that during the Olympics, HOV lanes on I-405 will be converted into lanes only open to Olympics athletes and officials as part of an “Olympic Route Network (ORN).” This will increase gridlock on the highways and spill onto the streets.
Parking will be a nightmare for much of the City South of the Pacific Coast Highway during the Olympics. According to the bid, “Parking near key venue locations will be restricted to official Games vehicles and nearby residents and businesses only.” This means that tens of thousands of spectators for events in Long Beach will not be able to park near the games. LA 2028 will encourage spectators to take light rail, which will likely clog that system as well. But for weeks, it will be impossible for residents of Long Beach to escape a massive parking nightmare along the coast from downtown to Belmont Shore.
For additional information on this and other topics, please see the “NOlympics” campaign work of DSA Los Angeles: http://www.dsa-la.org/nolympics
Who Benefits from the Olympics?
We recognize that the Olympics will provide an economic boost to the region. But while short-term service and “guard labor” and construction jobs may be temporarily available to working class people in Southern California, we believe that the primary beneficiaries of LA 2028 are the very people who are donating to it: landlords, developers, hotel owners, entertainment industry vendors, radio and television networks, celebrities likely to bring in lucrative sponsorships, and other businesspeople.
While unemployment may temporarily go down during the games, and some middle class people may gain extra income by renting out rooms in their personal homes, the widespread displacement produced by hosting the games will outweigh the benefits for working class people in the region. And the social safety net and public education that working people most rely on will be put in jeopardy if– as almost always happens– there are significant cost overruns.
Further, the temporary low wage jobs that a temporary burst in tourism brings to the City are also those where workers are much more likely to suffer from wage theft. This has been a problem around the Grand Prix in past years, and it will be exponentially worse with hosting the Olympics.
The City of Long Beach Misrepresented the Cost of Hosting the Olympics
The original language in the resolution that the City Council passed on September 20, 2016 authorizing a partnership with LA 2024 stated that “City staff will work with LA 2024 to pursue full cost recovery. If the City is expected to incur non-reimbursable costs, staff will return to the City Council at a later date for direction. It is envisioned that the City would establish a reserve fund, to which funds would be added over the next eight years to cover any costs not covered by LA 2024.”
On Facebook last Summer, Mayor Garcia went so far as to explain the Olympic bid’s cost to the City of Long Beach as: “We spend no money. There is no taxpayer financing of this.”
Now, with today’s “8 by 28” proposal, the City Council is already investigating potential “non-reimbursable costs” that it may incur as part of its hosting the Olympics, separate from the likelihood of increased policing costs. In other words, contrary to what Mayor Garcia promised, we will spend money, and there probably is taxpayer financing. In addition, to our knowledge the city has yet to establish a reserve fund.
The Need for Public Input
The Democratic Socialists of America’s Long Beach chapter is calling upon the Long Beach Mayor and City Council to suspend their vote on the 8 by 28 plan set for February 6, 2018, and instead solicit popular opinion from a wide range of interests in the city to have a real discussion of the costs as well as benefits of hosting the Olympics. While DSA is ultimately against Long Beach participating in the 2028 Olympic Games, the need for a truly democratic process involving the community in making this decision is paramount. The 2028 Games are over ten years away, and many community members believe there are much more pressing concerns to be addressed. Whether Long Beach is involved with the 2028 Olympics or not should be part of a much broader discussion about the City’s goals for the future, and whether the 2028 Olympics will help us meet those goals. We expect that the Council will welcome such democratic process, whether they agree with us on the merits or not, as the community should be involved in deciding Long Beach’s way forward, rather than simply following the lead of our larger neighbor.
The Democratic Socialists of America – Long Beach Chapter