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Is LA really about to squander a once-in-a-generation chance to leverage its Olympic opportunity into tangible, permanent benefits for the 10 million people being forced to participate in this civic experiment?

A row of palm trees are silhouetted against a pink and orange sunset streaking across a blue sky.
LA's streets are lined with palm trees planted just before the 1932 Summer Olympics

The Olympics can be bad for cities. We've all seen the evidence firsthand. But here in Los Angeles, we're trained from a young age to believe that we’re the exception. We’ve hosted two times before. Our games are historically profitable, and we’re still making money off of them. We've already built the venues; there won’t be any last-minute stapling of aluminum cladding onto unfinished stadiums. With such veteran expertise, the infrastructure in place, and robust corporate sponsorship, we're guaranteed a three-peat victory.


When we were awarded the 2028 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2017 — "awarded" is doing a lot of work here; as the only two cities in contention for 2024, Paris and Los Angeles were given the 2024 and 2028 games, respectively — LA leaders were so confident in our ability to deliver the megaevent that they began appending additional Olympics deadlines across agencies and departments. Major subway expansions would be complete, a train would finally go to the airport, popular museums and tourist destinations would get much-needed makeovers. We'd have congestion pricing and free transit, a revitalized LA River, a zero-emission transportation system, and shade trees planted across the city. Even homelessness would be ended. The hosting of the Olympics would deliver concrete benefits for residents lasting long after the games, with all of it guaranteed to happen by July 14, 2028.

But now, with four years until the opening ceremonies, it's clear that many of these things aren't happening at all. And even if they are, the revised completion dates are edging dangerously close to 2028. So where does that leave us now?

Officials are delivering dire warnings about a budget unable to cover basic city services, while desperately seeking outside funding for games-related costs. The announcements from LA28, the private nonprofit producing the games, are vague, and, with an uncertain sponsorship outlook, perhaps purposefully so. Almost a decade after the bidding process began, the estimated price has ballooned past $7 billion, and it's still unclear who is paying for what, or — as many people have warned for many years — if taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

And yet, decisions are being made, every day, that will affect us all in 2028. But the narrative must be pieced together from various committee agendas, department reports, and the minutes of closed-door working group meetings. Because, despite all those goals being set across jurisdictions and agencies, the region still lacks an articulated, comprehensive vision for 2028 and how, exactly, we all plan to get there.

If it takes, as one councilmember said recently, seven years to repair a sidewalk in her district — and, honestly, if you’ve walked anywhere in this city, you know that’s a generous timetable — how can LA expect to reasonably execute what have been inexplicably labeled the "car-free games?" Why, if 2028 is truly a "no-build Olympics," are officials using public dollars for venue improvements, including a $1.4 billion people mover? And how can a region which has done next to nothing to mitigate the risks of extreme heat host "seven Super Bowls a day for 30 days" during what is certain to be a much hotter July and August? Even the LA County Fair has moved to spring

Will LA be ready for the Olympics? It's not the right question to ask this time around. Nor should we expect any responses to polite inquisitions posed to the LA28 organizing committee about their intentions. What we should be demanding are answers and actions from our own leaders who are precariously close to blowing this moment. After a field trip to tour Paris's preparations last month, LA's city council president expressed a sense of wide-eyed urgency: "One message that has resonated through all our meetings: 'Start early, start early, start early.'" A curious statement from someone who has been on the council since the bid was awarded.

With an unprecedented 11 total years of lead time — 14 if you include the bid process — is LA really about to squander a once-in-a-generation chance to leverage its Olympic opportunity into tangible, permanent benefits for the 10 million people being forced to participate in this civic experiment?

And it's not just the Olympics, of course. LA has managed to brand itself as the global megaevent hub; the World Cup is coming in 2026 as well as yet another Super Bowl in 2027. We are currently immersed in the first election cycle for the leaders who will be in office for all of them. The outside money flooding into LA opens the door for even more corruption in a city an FBI field office director recently described as "fed up with rampant malfeasance by public officials." Many LA city councilmembers vying for re-election claim they can’t possibly implement desperately needed charter amendments like independent redistricting, council expansion, and ethics reform by 2032, but they sure as heck can host the “largest peacetime gathering in U.S. history” by 2028. Maybe they're worried that making such necessary changes to the city charter would take away the lucrative megaevent deals they’ve already sealed for themselves.

For the next four years, I'll be looking closely at the past, present, and future of these megaevents and how they've promised to change daily life in LA. Despite the "no-build Olympics" label we are, in fact, building quite a bit, and I'll be watching these projects as they progress — well, if they progress — like the divisive Dodger Stadium gondola, or the now-legally-contested LA Zoo renovation, or LAX's CONRAC, which, when finished, will be the largest car-rental facility in the world. (Wait, I thought these Olympics were going to be car-free?)

I'll also investigate how the legacies of previous megaevents impact us every day. What should happen to the thousands of palm trees planted before the 1932 games that are certain to die over the next decade? How can local planners constantly reference LA's successful transportation strategy for the 1984 games yet refuse to apply those lessons to our everyday commute? And if the LA84 Foundation claims it redistributes the games’ profits by funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into world-class park improvements and youth sports programs, why did the Trust for Public Land just rank LA 80th out of 100 U.S. cities for park equity and recreation access? 

These answers will require digging through public records, wading through archives, and poring over agency budgets. But it will also mean getting together out in the real world to search for the answers ourselves: taking a tour of ATSAC, visiting the only remaining structure of the 1932 Olympic Village, assessing the state of our public pools, locating all the 1984-stamped concrete benches that have made their way into various corners of the city.

And along the way, we'll hopefully stumble across some other ideas for how to make this place a little less dysfunctional. I can't do it alone, and you can help by subscribing to support this work. So LA doesn't get burned. 🔥

💬 Mayor Karen Bass's State of the City address is tonight at 5:30 pm, watch here

🔍 I'm serious about the 1984-stamped concrete benches. If you see one, snap a photo and email it to me

✨ Speaking of 1984, I've published my 2014 interview with Deborah Sussman who designed the look of the games

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