Los Angeles: Where’s the Public’s Voice in the 2028 Olympics Decision?

LOS ANGELES

OLYMPICS POLITICS--By the time you read this, the Los Angeles City Council may have already voted to accept the invitation to host the 2028 Summer Olympics Games. 

 

Holding a vote so quickly is unnecessary, a violation of the public’s trust, and perhaps even illegal. 

As part of the article that created the neighborhood council system in the new City Charter, Section 907, requires the City Council and other bodies, such as its committees, to give the neighborhood councils enough notice so they can have a reasonable opportunity to provide input before decisions are made. 

Here is the complete text, and a link to this part of the City Charter: 

Ever since the charter was approved by the voters in 1999, and the first neighborhood councils began operating in 2002, the City Council has routinely ignored this guarantee.  

For example, the council will almost always wait until the deadline is about to expire to place an item on the ballot before it's brought to the City Council for approval, thereby leaving making it nearly impossible for any meaningful public input to be provided. 

There have been many times when a critically important city staff analysis, such as from the Office of Chief Legislative Analyst, isn’t delivered until minutes before the City Council, or one of its committees meets, which gives no one any time to read or understand it.  

Sadly, the neighborhood councils, and the public, have never protested or challenged these apparent violations of the City Charter.  

There are enough attorneys who believe in the neighborhood council system who can huddle up and develop a legal strategy to protect the public’s right to be heard.  It would make for a productive workshop at a future Congress of Neighborhoods. 

Or, the neighborhood councils could find a non-profit or for-profit organization that has an interest in the matter, and urge them to initiate a lawsuit, or create the threat of one. 

The problem is that while the City Council agreed to apply to host the Olympic Games in 2024, waiting until 2028 carries with it a new set of issues that need to be discussed after a sober analysis by independent sources. 

The horror stories about over-spending during past games abound.  To be fair, Los Angeles is likely better positioned than all of the other interested cities because nearly all of the venues needed to house the events already exist.  

However, one fact remains true about every “build-to-suit” reports that the organizers of local Olympics bids pay for:  they all underestimated the costs, and overstated the benefits.  They are designed, in part, to gin up interest among the public and government leaders. 

Some of the flaws in these reports are:  

  1. The official profit and loss numbers of past games released by the organizing committees only reflect its own direct costs, and do not count the costs to taxpayers for fixing streets, constructing venues, improving transit systems, providing police protection, etc. 
  1. In fact, the economic reports list the infrastructure projects as benefits of the event, and not expenses for the taxpayers. 
  1. They aren’t clear about how taxpayers, beyond the richest and best-connected business leaders will benefit. 
  1. Even if the city is reimbursed for support from the police and emergency services personnel, the reports don’t account for the diversion of those resources from other duties. 
  1. They usually aren’t honest and upfront about how many of the jobs created will be low-paying and temporary in nature, such as ticket takers, as opposed to how many permanent jobs will be created, and the cost of creating them. I.e., is this the best way to create jobs? 

The bottom line is that if hosting the Olympic Games will truly benefit the public, then proving it to the public should be easy. 

I spent 34 years working for the city, most of it with the City Council, and I can tell you that whenever an important item is being rushed to the City Council for a vote so quickly that the public doesn’t have time to weigh in, it’s almost always because the City Council doesn’t want the public to weigh in, and that isn’t what the new City Charter intended.

 

(Greg Nelson is a former general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, was instrumental in the creation of the LA Neighborhood Council System, served as chief of staff for former LA City Councilman Joel Wachs … and occasionally writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at gregn213@cox.net.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

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