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Q&A: Should LA think twice about hosting the Olympics?

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A growing coalition says the games would hurt the city

Earlier today, a recommendation from the International Olympic Committee’s executive board made an LA Olympics in 2024 or 2028 a near certainty. But as the city’s bid gains momentum, a coalition of activist groups led by members of the Democratic Socialists of America has launched a campaign opposing the games.

Curbed caught up with Anne Orchier, an organizing member of NOlympics LA to find out more about the movement.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s wrong with the Olympics?

One of the important things to keep in mind for campaign and our coalition is that we want to move away from talking about problems with the Olympics only in terms of their profitability—whether they make money or not, or how the budget sheet winds up at the end of the games.

That’s not to say that games going over budget hasn’t been a huge problem for other cities or that it could potentially be a problem for LA. But our primary goal is to think about what’s wrong with the games in terms of things that go wrong even when they go right.

The first thing we want to ask is, even when [the games] are profitable: profitable for whom? Where does that money go? Where do those resources go? When we look at the Olympics what we see is an opportunity to further consolidate wealth and power and resources in the hands of people who already have those things.

One of the main points of our platform is that the Olympics have a tendency to accelarate gentrification and spur displacement. And in some cases that displacement can be really explicit, and in some cases violent—an example being Rio, where people who were living in favela communities where Olympic construction was designated were violently removed by police.

And people will ask us: “What about the fact that LA doesn’t need to build any new [Olympic venues]?” And they’re thinking about displacement in this very literal way where people are displaced when a new structure is built and the old structure gets torn down. But this is just a reminder that people are displaced when they can’t afford to live where they’ve been living, even if there is no new construction.

If not new construction, what elements of LA’s hosting responsibilities do you see as contributing to displacement?

Looking at something like the Rams stadium—that’s been marked as a venue for the Olympics. The week the IOC came to visit and they had that very successful visit to all the venues and it became increasingly clear that LA might get the 2024 or 2028 games, a developer announced that he was going to build, I think it was a luxury gated community on this big plot of land next to the Rams stadium.

So basically, the bid gets supported, developers get dollar signs in their eyes and they’re able to speculate and make these land grabs in every area that there’s going to be an opportunity that the Olympics will bring.

Is that really an Olympics effect? It seems like a new NFL stadium would already bring some of those [speculative] opportunities.

It puts together a clear timeline for people and creates this much more targeted and clear calendar for how and when people see money coming in.

The Olympics is this mega event that people start planning so many years in advance. It has a funny effect. I sort of think of it as almost like a corporate state of exception. Instead of a political crisis, it’s this huge celebration where a lot of the rules go off the table. Because of the power it consolidates within the bid committee and the mayor’s office to do things in a slightly different way, it creates a lot of opportunities for them to get certain projects through that maybe wouldn’t be possible or would happen on a more extended timeline if the Olympics weren’t coming.

So it’s a distraction.

To me, it’s kind of a distraction at best, and a really effective hand-tying mechanism at worst. I’m also a member of the Tenants Union and we’re pushing for a lot of reforms within the city’s housing department, including [short-term rental] regulations. If landlords and city officials and people with a profit motive know that there’s this event coming down the road where they could make a lot of money from short-term rentals, there’s going to be a lot less incentive for [housing officials] to work on those reforms.

The balance of power shifts in terms of what kind of negotiating power we have as citizens and residents compared to the profit motives and incentives that are happening in the bid committee.

One poll indicated that 88 percent of LA residents want to host the Olympics. How are you addressing the fact that, whether or not you buy into that statistic, it does seem like a lot of people are in favor of the games?

It makes sense to us that two years ago you ask people that single question—are you in support of the Olympics—people are going to say yes. But if you were to ask them today and ask more specific questions, including how they feel about the taxpayer guarantee, how do you feel about being on the hook for paying for these Olympics if they go over budget? Or how do you feel about the fact that if the Olympics come here, that the Department of Homeland Security and FBI are going to be in charge of the police? If you start asking specific questions like that, I would venture to guess that the number would drop significantly below 88 percent.

What about people who are still enthusiastic because they like the idea of the games and want to show off their city?

In general, our anecdotal experience has been in talking with people who are personally enthusiastic about the Olympics or think they’re really cool—like one of my best friends is someone who just loves the Olympics. But typically those people have dropped that support once we share some of the details about how the Olympics work.

In particular, when we talk about the increased risk of police violence and displacement of marginalized communities, that doesn’t seem like a good tradeoff to most people—even the ones who are diehard fans or think [hosting] the Olympics seems really fun.

Do you think there’s a way to host the Olympics without running into those issues?

What you would have to build into the Olympics to make them less rife for exploitation would be accountability and a lessening of the profit motives in [the games]. Right now, that’s what we see as driving all of this stuff.