Ten years from now — when the Olympic torch makes its way through the Coliseum for the third time in history — USC plans to be fully prepared.
Since the International Olympic Committee announced that Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympics last year, new construction plans have sprung up around campus, bringing everything from hotels to retail space for potential Olympic visitors.
The thought of the University Park community changing drastically fills activist Rabeya Sen with a sense of dread.
“Who is this development going to be for?” said Sen, director of policy at the nonprofit Esperanza Community Housing. “Is it going to be for the people who [live here] or is it going to be for a whole new set of people who are coming in?”
USC’s ties to the Olympic Games run deep.
Former President C. L. Max Nikias sat on the Board of Directors of LA 2024, the organization that ran L.A.’s bid for the Olympic Games, and the Undergraduate Student Government officially endorsed the bid in March 2017.
This view appeared to reflect that of the majority of Angelenos. A Loyola Marymount University survey in July 2017 showed that 83 percent supported hosting the Olympics in Los Angeles. But in the months since, there has been growing opposition to the Olympics around campus; local activists and organizations worry that the Games could harm neighborhoods around USC.
In September, survey data from NOlympics LA — an organization that attempted to keep the Olympics out of Los Angeles — reported that 13 percent of L.A. County residents strongly support hosting the Olympics in L.A., while 24 percent are neutral and 45 percent oppose it.
Daniel Durbin, director of the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society, called these factors a “perfect storm” of urban problems that must be addressed before the Olympics can take place.
“Now you want to sink a huge amount of money into an event that ideally will bring more wealthy people over to buy a limited number of wealthy property,” Durbin said. “There are a lot of concerns in Los Angeles given the massive homelessness problem … and the continuing financial and other challenges for the city.”
An enticing promise
Current plans for L.A. 2028 include a large role for USC’s campus and the surrounding area. The closing ceremony will take place at the Coliseum, which will also host various sporting events along with the Galen Center and Dedeaux Field. USC Village will also serve as official Media Village, housing journalists from around the world for the event.
The Games have the potential to attract more tourists and businesses to the host city, Durbin said. Host cities typically use the Olympics as an incentive to better their current infrastructure and transportation systems to benefit visitors and residents.
Dan Stimmler, vice president of auxiliary services and chief operating officer of the Coliseum said he thinks the 2028 Olympics will have positive effects on the surrounding community, providing jobs and volunteer positions for locals. The only potential problem Stimmler said he could think of would be increased traffic.
“We already have not just the competition venues, but we have the dorms for the media, we have the housing for the athletes already in place,” Stimmler said. “We have the hotels in downtown already in place … Everything that’s needed to host the Olympics, the main infrastructure, all [exists] currently.”
Durbin said the Olympics could create a global brand for Los Angeles, and make enough profit to fund improvements to infrastructure like transportation. But he explained that cities often pay more to the IOC to win the Olympic bid and prepare their city for the Olympics than they would ever bring in with tourism or infrastructure development.
“Even a situation where in theory you’re going to have money coming in, you have to be willing to spend almost a limitless amount of money to fund the Olympics themselves,” Durbin said. “It is high-risk financial activity, and a lot of cities are concerned about putting themselves on the line for that.”
It’s unclear which of these factors may have been at play for residents who responded to either survey, but according to NOlympics LA, the Olympics received positive feedback in the LMU poll largely because there was no “neutral” option for respondents with weaker opinions on the Olympics.
NOlympics LA member and co-organizer Jonny Coleman said that respondents who didn’t have a strong opinion most likely answered the question positively.
“I think nothing polls that highly or that well. We were very skeptical of that,” Coleman said. “We feel like a lot of that … is people who were checked out or don’t care, but because they were given the binary support or oppose they picked one of them and maybe people err on the side of supporting things.”
A mobilized opposition
Organizations like Esperanza Community Housing, which partners with community members and organizations to promote affordable housing and equitable development in South L.A., believe the 2028 Olympics could displace South L.A. residents and increase gentrification in the area.
“In this community that’s already experiencing these types of harm, what we fear with the Olympics coming in and the years between now and 2028 is more of the same, that it’s going to harm the community,” Sen said.
Sen worries that landlords or development companies might push out current residents to rent properties to visitors at higher rates during the Olympics.
Looking at past Olympics, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy Executive Director Cynthia Strathmann said there has been a pattern of displacement for low-income communities. Over 70,000 residents were forced to relocate when Rio de Janeiro hosted the Games in 2016. What’s more, a 2007 report from the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions found that the Summer Olympics displaced over two million people and spurred real estate inflation around the world between the 1988 Seoul Games and the 2008 Beijing Games.
Her organization is worried that Los Angeles could face similar problems.
“Most of the people we see are in housing crisis, so the Olympics are not the first thing on their mind because the Olympics are not the immediate cause of their housing issue,” Strathmann said. “We expect to see people becoming more and more concerned as development proceeds that displaces them unless there are strong measures taken to [avoid] that.”
Developments like The Fig Project could potentially displace residents on Flower Drive to make room for retail space, housing and a hotel. In May, the Los Angeles City Council approved a 1,153-room hotel complex across from the L.A. Convention Center called Fig + Pico to house visitors for the Olympics.
While Strathmann hasn’t heard of other developments, SAJE expects there will be more construction and potential displacement leading up to 2028. The organization plans to continue its tenant clinics and, will work to make tenants more aware of the potential impacts the Olympics could have on their living situation.
“We’re always working to educate and do outreach with tenants in the community, so that they know the rights they already have,” Strathmann said. “We also work with them to advocate for more rights so that they have more recourse when situations arise where they could be pushed out of their home.”
Still, the Olympics have faced successful opposition in the past. Coleman said Colorado residents and some politicians rallied against the 1976 Denver Olympics in 1972, and the city eventually declined the title of host city even after the IOC officially awarded it the bid.
With 10 years left until the Olympics, Coleman said NOlympics LA hopes to educate Californians on the impact the Olympics could have on L.A. and thinks a potential ballot measure in a few years could lead to Californians ousting the Olympics from L.A. just as Colorado residents did in 1972.
“It’s just a contract — you can break it,” Coleman said. “We [exist] in a reality where anything is possible. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 10 years. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think we had a shot.”