20 April 2023
This is the third episode in our Road to Brisbane series, where we explore the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.
In today's conversation, we're taking a detour out of Australia and exploring the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
In this episode Infrastructure partner Alex Guy speaks to Counsel Shmel Graham and senior associate Tristan Robinson, who both played a part in the journey to the Los Angeles Games.
Tristan was involved in the successful bid by the City of Los Angeles to host the 2028 games; and Shmel was part of the Mayor's office during the creation of the Twenty-eight by 28 initiative.
The LA Games are unique, because without any new permanent constructions build for the games, all the resources are focused on advancing social and public policy goals around equity, sustainability, the equitable distribution of resources in cities, and a shared community experience around sport.
Similarly, the Brisbane Games are also set to utilize existing infrastructure whilst also delivering lasting social benefits to the community.
Before we begin, I'd just like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land I'm speaking to you from today, the Jagera and the Turrbal people, and to pay my respects to their elders, both past and present, as well as to all First Nations people who may be listening today. Hello and welcome to Ashurst Business Agenda. My name's Alex Guy, and I'm a partner in the transport and infrastructure team in the Ashurst Brisbane office. This is the third episode in our Road to Brisbane series, where we explore the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, which is forecast to deliver immense commercial, social and cultural and community benefits to the state of Queensland. In today's conversation, we're taking a detour out of Australia and exploring the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games. The LA Games are unique, because without any new permanent constructions build for the games, all the resources are focused on advancing social and public policy goals around equity, sustainability, the equitable distribution of resources in cities, and a shared community experience around sport.
And similarly, the Brisbane Games are also set to utilize existing infrastructure whilst also delivering lasting social benefits to the community. I'm delighted to speak to my colleagues from the Ashurst Los Angeles office. Counsel Shmel Graham and senior associate Tristan Robinson, who both played a part in the journey to the Los Angeles Games. Welcome Shmel and Tristan. Let's start with you Shmel. As an LA native, what does hosting the 2028 Olympics, which is the record third Olympic games to be held in the city, and the first Paralympic games being held in LA, mean for the people of the city?
Well, personally, and for the people of the city, Alex, I'm very excited. As a native Angelino, not to age myself, but I was alive during the 1984 Olympics and do remember the mascot, which was Sam, the animated Eagle, and all the excitement around the Olympics. Because I do have a young son I'm really excited about the opportunity to take him to Olympic events. He's an avid swimmer. So swimming's one of my favorite events to watch during the Olympics, as well as track and field and gymnastics. So really excited about the opportunity to enjoy that with my son. Professionally, because I used to work for the City of Los Angeles, I'm also excited about the Olympics because it serves as a powerful catalyst for us to address certain issues as a city in advance and in preparation for the Olympics. And I think it's a great opportunity to showcase the best that the city has to offer.
We have industries around creativity and entertainment, which are really key to our economic growth as a city. And so we'll be able to showcase that as a city, while also trying to address some challenging issues that we have here around the housing crisis and homelessness in advance of the Olympics, so that we can show how you can be innovative and bold and problem solve in advance of key milestones like the Olympics and showcase you're sitting in the best light possible.
Yeah, definitely. It's a huge opportunity for the city and it will be for Brisbane in 2032 too. So Tristan, I understand you worked on the successful bid to host the LA Olympics. Can you tell us about the key themes in the bid and what were the big selling points for the City of Los Angeles?
Sure. Thanks, Alex. So that's right. In a prior role, I worked as outside counsel to the ... at that time, it was the LA '24 bid committee and it's since merged to LA '28. I think there were four primary themes that carried through that bid. So I'll cover each of those themes briefly. One is in terms of the facilities. The construction of large new facilities has been historically a large cost escalator for prior Olympic games. And so for LA, one of the big selling points was that almost all of the planned games venues were already in existence or were to be completed and on track to be completed by 2028 with some permanent and temporary upgrades. And so the big committee saw that as a really important risk mitigation effort in terms of cost overruns.
And so upfront, for example, they scrapped a plan for an expensive new Olympic village in favor of using existing residential facilities at a local university, UCLA, and similarly, for the broadcast center, the international broadcast center, they staged that at the new NBC Universal facility in Universal City, rather than building a purpose built IBC from scratch. Secondly, looking at transit, public transit and options for public transit were a big selling point for the bid. And so to discourage vehicular traffic, parking near key locations and venues for events around the city was limited to official vehicles and just local residents and businesses. And so the bid actually had a specific aim to reduce traffic volumes throughout Los Angeles County by 15%. And to help do that, they actually integrated the ticketing technology for events, with ticketing for transit options.
Thirdly, thinking about governance, the big committee really wanted the games to be by the City of Los Angeles itself and not just in the city of Los Angeles. And so they had city representatives make up at least one sixth of the organizing committee board of directors, and then also have representation on board committees. And so by having the city really integrated with the organizing committee, the thought was that it could be involved in planning upfront and then be able to respond to issues during the games more swiftly. And then lastly, in thinking about the legacy of the games, one important program that was included in the bid that was modeled on a successful 1984 LA Olympic Games program was around a youth sport committee that was established as a legacy organization and would be funded through the Olympics and the LA Games to collaborate with local youth sports organizations and help fund some of their programs.
Thanks, Tristan. That's great. It sounds like there's a lot that we in Brisbane can learn from those experiences that you've had there in LA. As you know, in 2032, the Summer Olympics and Paralympics will be hosted in Brisbane. And that's the first time they've been held in Brisbane and the third time they've ever been hosted in Australia, with Sydney being in the year 2000 and Melbourne way back in 1956. So the approach on infrastructure for these games is using venues both new and old, and 84% of the venues for the 2032 games will be existing refurbished or temporary. The Gabba, which is one of the existing major stadiums in Brisbane will be the jewel in Brisbane's Olympic crown, hosting the athletics as well as the opening and closing ceremonies and the stadium's due for a $1 billion rebuild that'll increase its capacity to 50,000 spectators. It's a small part of the legacy building aspect of the games. What are the lessons that you think we can learn from the LA Games when approaching projects like this in Brisbane 2032?
Well, I think one of the lessons that can be learned is the lasting impact of the infrastructure itself. So for example, here in the City of Los Angeles, at one of the parks, there is a Swim Stadium and that Swim Stadium is kind of the crux of that park, which is located in South LA. And so it provides opportunities for children of color to take swim lessons and learn water safety. And so I think that's an example of infrastructure that can last a lot longer than the actual Olympic Games and have a positive impact for communities. My son, for example, we've hosted his birthday parties at the Swim Stadium, and it's always a great venue and kind of a hidden jewel. Sometimes people will say, "I didn't even know the Swim Stadium existed and that they had at all these facilities for young children."
And so I think it just provides great access. And as we think about what the Olympic Games represent and what it means, I think in this day and age, equity is important, and access for different communities and for children to be exposed to new sports and new opportunities to grow and develop. So the infrastructure provides that opportunity for the students so I think that's something Brisbane has to look forward to.
Absolutely. That's a really great lesson that we can learn. So Shmel, I understand you worked at the mayor's office when the city won the Olympic bid. Can you tell me what initiatives and approaches the city has taken to prepare for the Olympics?
Sure. As Tristan mentioned, part of the selling point for the Olympic bid was that we already had the existing infrastructure so the city wouldn't have to undertake large capital investments. However, the Olympics is a great key milestone that we utilize in the city to accelerate traditional investments that are happening in the day to day management and operations of a city. Government is often known for moving slow. And so when you have a key milestone where everyone has a sense of pride and wants to showcase the best that their city has to all offer, it's a nice carrot to hold out in front of different departments and say, "Let's try and be innovative and bold and do business differently and implement some of these existing investments or contemplated investments by the Olympics." So I think that's really what we did when I was with the city.
For key projects, we used the Olympics as a milestone to really accelerate projects and really inspire people to be excited about the work that they're doing, whether it's paving streets and implementing new sewer systems. You want the city to be at its best and the Olympics was a powerful catalyst, and still is. I still talk to former employees and for certain key projects, they said, "We're still pushing so we can have that for the Olympics." Because when you have the Olympics in your city, it's a great sense of pride and you always want to know that you're putting your best foot forward as a city. And so that's really how existing city officials and employees utilize the Olympics to really galvanize everyone to continue to do their work with as much enthusiasm as they can.
Yeah, definitely. And I can see that we've got the opportunity to do that in Brisbane as well with a number of major infrastructure projects potentially being accelerated or prioritized more highly as a result of the Olympics and the need to have them in place before 2032. So for every Olympic city, transport between the venues and for the increased number of visitors to the city is a challenge. Tristan, can you give us your thoughts on how Los Angeles is approaching that challenge?
Yeah. So as I previously mentioned, public transit options were really critical to LA's bid. And so Los Angeles Metro, which is the local transit agency for Los Angeles and is also a client of Ashurst, they developed a strategic plan called the Vision 2028 Plan. They developed that back in 2018 so it wasn't based specifically around the Olympics, but rather, it was based on transforming mobility and improving transportation equity throughout Los Angeles. But like you said, Alex, it really created a strong incentive to quickly improve mobility across Los Angeles in time for the Olympics and in backing LA's commitment to the Olympics, and also to advocate for accelerated resources for these projects so that they could happen before the Olympics, particularly from the state and federal government. And so the plan itself involved 28 projects that were identified in the mayor's 28 by '28 initiative.
And those projects include a whole host of public transit options, including light rail, micro transit, bus rapid transit, and expansions to express lanes and also new bike paths. And three of those 28 projects, Ashurst is fortunate enough to be working on. In terms of the funding of those projects I think it's interesting to note that there's a combination of expenditure plans that Los Angeles put together that were voter approved sales tax hikes, and the money that was collected through those sales taxes is applied to transportation and specifically to these projects. And Metro is also intending to utilize public-private partnerships to implement these projects where they offer value for money to the agency. And so while COVID-19 has thrown the plan to deliver these projects are slightly off its tracks ... pardon the pun there. Metro and the City of LA are trying to work together to make sure that the city will meet its transit goals for the Olympics and to make sure that they run as efficiently as possible and that these transit improvements will serve the people of LA over the long term.
Fantastic. Finally, and perhaps first to you, Shmel, what role do you think the future Olympics can play in advancing social and public policy goals around equity, sustainability and the equitable distribution of resources in cities?
I think the Olympics play a critical role in advancing social and public policy goals. Historically, we've always seen how politics have influenced Olympics, whether certain countries participate, whether certain countries aren't invited to participate or even, with the 1968 Olympics, when you had sprinters making political and social statements based on unrest that was happening in their native country, I think there's an opportunity to utilize the Olympics to foster dialogue around challenging conversations because the Olympics are about unity. We see the Olympic rings and they're intertwined. And so it's a great opportunity to discuss these issues, work on projects that advance it with always kind of those key milestones in place that every four years, we're going to have this opportunity to look where we've come from, how far we're advancing as a society and what work we still need to do.
And sustainability goals and climate resilience is a worldwide discussion and so opportunities to advance projects that tackle that and are intentional and mindful about addressing that in the Olympics, I think is a great opportunity for any city. And I think with the growing disparities that we see sometimes in different countries and cities, it's a great opportunity to really think about when you're having such a grand event where you can showcase your city on a worldwide stage, how can you be very intentional in making sure that everyone participates and can enjoy and experience the Olympics?
Yeah. And just to add to that, at a more simple level, one way the Los Angeles Olympics is trying to help foster that inclusion in terms of its venues is by hosting the opening and closing ceremonies actually simultaneously in two separate venues across the city. And trying to do that in a way that is inclusive and will involve the entire city rather than focusing on just one corner or one pocket of it.
So that brings us to the end of our third podcast in the Olympic series. And I just want to say thanks, Shmel, and thanks, Tristan, for joining us. That was really great. I really enjoyed hearing what you had to say.
Thank you for having me.
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