The 2028 Los Angeles Olympics are still nearly seven years away. But the city council has set a self-imposed deadline of November 1 to come up with an agreement with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and LA 28, the private nonprofit consortium responsible for running the games as to how the city will host the event. The city, whose outgoing mayor, Eric Garcetti, has been an outspoken supporter of the Olympic bid, has also determined that by that date it will make a decision on whether to expand LAX airport to accommodate the anticipated Olympic crowds. The council is also slated to decide whether to expand a loophole in the City’s housing codes to allow up to 14,000 more short-term rentals in a city that already has a vast number of unhoused residents. Why would the City do this? One answer is that AirBnb is one of the corporate sponsors of the 2028 Olympics.
So far, the negotiations around what the agreement will look like have all been done behind closed doors. There has been no real public input.
That’s not a good thing. In fact, given the amount of financial, housing, and security resources that host cities end up devoting to the Olympics, freezing the public out of discussions like this is an act of extreme hubris. The agreement around the Tokyo games ran to 185 pages; assuming LA’s agreement is as detailed, that suggests that an awful lot of big-picture decisions that will affect the city’s future are being decided in secret.
Making a bad situation worse—and fueling the notion that LA’s power brokers are hoping to set the terms for the games out of sight and out of mind—the city has, according to Unite Here Local 11 Copresident Kurt Petersen, stonewalled multiple Public Records Act requests for information from the union. In response to this, Unite Here recently launched a campaign urging the council to delay a vote on the agreement until the public has had more of a say in what it looks like.
Unite HERE represents workers in hotels, airports, and sports stadiums—all of which will, of course, be directly affected by the games—and it also works closely with housing activists, who fear the Olympics will open up even more of the city to short-term rentals, and will place even greater stresses on the city’s dysfunctional housing market. The union fears that absent a public campaign around equity principles, Los Angeles might end up repeating some of the same mistakes made by other recent host cities, such as London. In those instances, residents of poor neighborhoods were displaced to make way for new Olympic infrastructure, and, despite large-scale infusions of public cash, the games didn’t generate long-term employment gains. A recent report found that the promised income and lifestyle benefits for residents of London’s East End simply didn’t materialize. In Rio de Janeiro, in 2016, roughly 22,000 residents were displaced to make way for the Games. Five years later, the 2021 Games in Tokyo were responsible for the forcible relocation of hundreds of households.
Hoping to convince the city to learn from prior examples, Unite HERE local 11 is pushing for the Olympics agreement to include a binding promise of more long-term, benefited, hospitality industry jobs; for an employment diversity commitment, in which the Olympics’ organizers promise to hire and retain more African American workers; and for significant investments in housing as part of a larger effort to end the city’s staggering homelessness crisis.
Petersen is hopeful that over the coming weeks and months public pressure will be brought to bear on city councilors to lock in place a number of guarantees around housing access, particularly in the period surrounding the Olympics. That, he says, would make him cautiously optimistic about long-term trends and about the ability to modify the Olympic Agreement even after the November 1 deadline has come and gone. But, in the short term, he fears that the 2028 Olympics will end up representing another missed opportunity for progressive change in the City of Angels.
“These Olympics should be transformative for Los Angeles in a way that no other city has been able to do, if we focus on housing, on jobs, on inclusion,” says Petersen. But, he continues, “there’s no evidence they’re doing it. There’s a complete lack of vision. It needs a lot more attention. It’s a real shame what’s happening now.”