South LA

Twenty-Eight for ‘28: Metro madness

L.A. is expanding transit infrastructure in time for the 2028 Olympic Games, garnering mixed reactions from South L.A. residents

Photo courtesy of Katelyn Do. A LA Metro train arrives at the Downtown Inglewood station.

Los Angeles public transportation will see significant changes as the city prepares to host the 2028 Olympics. As funding increases for dozens of transit projects, L.A. residents, city leaders and political organizers disagree about how these infrastructure changes will affect local communities.

In 1984, L.A. hosted the most profitable Olympic Games in history, earning $223 million, due in large part to its existing stadium infrastructure. In 2028, the city government hopes to set the stage for another lucrative Olympic Games.

“The secret sauce to making the Olympics work in Los Angeles is you don’t have to build anything,” said Alan Abrahamson, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s press committee and journalism professor at USC Annenberg.

Many symbolic buildings in L.A. such as The Forum, Dodger Stadium and Rose Bowl were used for the 1984 Summer Olympics and are still a part L.A.’s rich music and sports culture. The L.A. Memorial Coliseum and the Uytengsu Aquatics Center even hosted the 1932 Summer Olympics in the Trojans’ own backyard.

“Los Angeles is the only place, and I mean only place, where the Olympic Games are part of the fabric of city life,” Abrahamson said.

Historically, the Olympics have been a huge economic burden for host cities. The Games in the 1970s — particularly the 1976 Montreal Games — suffered a series of overrun costs and accumulated debts.

According to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, every Olympics since 1960 has gone over budget. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics exceeded $15 billion when the initial budget for the event was roughly $8 billion. LA28, the private committee setting up the games, has budgeted for $6.9 billion, excluding any infrastructure improvements.

According to the committee, the Games will be funded by private investors, philanthropy and the IOC. However, in the past, overrun costs were placed on host cities to cover — meaning L.A. taxpayers may feel the weight of exceeding the budget.

While venues like the L.A. Coliseum are secured for sporting events, the city lacks one crucial aspect to Olympics infrastructure: transportation. City leaders are eager to take advantage of the Games as an opportunity to bolster public transit funding.

In 2017, then-L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, in conjunction with the L.A. Metro, proposed 28 public transportation projects to finish in time for the 2028 Olympic Games. Mayor Karen Bass reaffirmed the commitment to expanding public transportation in time for the Olympics.

The “Twenty-eight by ‘28″ plan includes improvements to bus, rail, highway and bike systems.

The Metro Purple Line that cuts through Downtown L.A. into Koreatown will extend into Westwood. In 2019, the Blue Line that transverses through South L.A. along highway I-110 to reach Downtown Long Beach underwent major improvements and will see further upgrades.

Interstate 105, which runs east to west between Norwalk and El Segundo, will receive several new ExpressLanes, as will the I-10 freeway.

New bike paths will be created along the L.A. River, and new transit corridors will be constructed along Vermont and Sepulveda, with one connecting the South L.A. K Line to the LAX airport. A full list of projects can be found here.

Seventeen projects were already set to finish before 2028, with funding secured under Measure M, which created a half-cent county sales tax meant to fund transportation upgrades in 2016. The other 11 projects require accelerated funding to complete before the 2028 deadline. According to the project list, some projects had initial completion dates in the 2030s. Others had to reduce their deadlines by over 15 years.

The plan is estimated to cost $42.9 billion, according to The Pacific Research Institute. Inglewood was recently awarded for $407 million from Gov. Gavin Newsom through the state Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program to expand the city’s transportation system. Added to the previous award, Inglewood now has over $1.5 billion in transit budget.

Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts, an advocate for expanding Inglewood’s transit infrastructure, believes in using funding opportunities to alleviate the city’s long standing traffic problem.

“When the Lakers and the Kings are here, the city suffer[s] through that traffic.” Butt said. “[The new transit plans] will provide a conveyance that will move 11 to 12,000 people an hour above the streets, so the streets won’t be impacted.”

“We believe this will be a game changer as it relates to mass transit,” Butts added.

Photo courtesy of Urbanize LA. A rendering of the people mover's Downtown Inglewood Station.

However, a local community organization aimed at advocating for equitable infrastructure development, tenant rights and housing accessibility, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), expressed concerns that the accelerated plans may not ensure an equitable expansion for local residents. They are one of many community organizations that have aligned themselves with the NOlympicsLA coalition, an organization that opposes hosting the Olympics due to its socioeconomic impact on local communities.

The Director of Building Equity and Transit of SAJE, Oscar Zarate, is concerned about Metro’s undertaking of expensive projects in light of the ‘28 Olympic Games, saying that he fears they may cater to tourists instead of local residents.

“[City government leaders] were divesting from policing contracts, improving the service, making the system fair,” Zarate said in reference to local city politics before Olympic-related expansions. “Those are going to take a backseat as we continue … to push capital projects.”

L.A. has gone back and forth on its policies regarding accessible transit. In September 2020, Metro launched its Fareless System Initiative Task Force. Metro wrote the company had “embarked on an intensive process of studying and identifying facts, challenges and opportunities related to eliminating fares on Metro buses and trains.”

Just two years later in September 2022, Newsom vetoed the AB 1919 bill that would launch a program allowing students and children to ride on public transit fareless called the “Youth Transit Pass Pilot Program.” Newsom cited costs and budget as the main reasoning behind his veto.

Though Zarate is a proponent of expanding public transportation for more South L.A. communities, he said the new and accelerated developments could drive up housing costs for current residents.

“While someone sees a new transit station as a way to get to their jobs better, landlords see that as a way of justifying a $500 dollars rent increase or pushing a family of four out so they can increase the rent,” Zarate said.

In response to the Crenshaw/LAX Line Transit Project, or the K-Line, the first listed project within the “Twenty-eight for ‘28″ plan, South L.A. residents expressed fears of housing prices soaring and businesses being bought out by larger companies hoping to capitalize on new transportation developments, specifically the K-Line, according to reporting by LAist.

In the article, small business owner Jackie Ryan of Baldwin Hills said the building where her store Zambezi Bazaar was located had been bought by a new company and she was subsequently pushed out.

“There is a link between public investment in transit and gentrification and displacement,” Paul Ong, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, wrote in the article.

Some residents believe the expansive budget for the project could have been redirected towards more pressing community concerns.

“Maybe for schools, especially in the Black community,” Inglewood resident Joethlyn Diaz said. “I feel like they could do more scholarships, [more] spending money on the children.”

According to a report by The Urban Displacement Project, several L.A. small business owners connected new transit with local businesses being pushed out of their neighborhoods due to rising rent.

L.A. Metro has made efforts to combat the potential displacement resulting from new transit development. The Metro Board of Directors has adopted a “Transit Oriented Communities” policy and an “Equity Platform,” writing that their equity platform is “grounded in planning for equity from the start of all Metro efforts, with deep community engagement.”

Bell Gardens City Council Member Jorgel Chavez said the city must prioritize community input in new developments. Chavez said location, language and outreach barriers must be addressed when planning public meetings for residents’ input.

“We have to adapt. If we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure we get community response and community input,” Chavez said.

Butts said the local community has been involved with new transit plans.

“There have been public notifications. You can go to our website and see anything you want about the transit connector,” Butts said. “There have been so many public meetings.”

L.A. Metro also has a history of over-policing Black and brown riders. Despite only making up 19% of Metro riders, Black Angelenos received over 50% of MTA citations and arrests over the past four years, according to a report from the Bus Riders Union.

Joanna Muñoz is a Metro Street Teams member, which are Metro ambassadors tasked with facilitating rider experience, and resident of South L.A. She believes transit safety should be prioritized before expansion.

“We can have many buses, but they’ve got to make sure it’s a safe place for everybody,” Muñoz said.

Cost is another barrier for many riders. The National League of Cities (NLC) reports that nearly 70% of Metro’s customers are low-income, having a median household income of just over $19,000 a year. Community organizations like SAJE advocate for fareless transit as a means to make the Metro more equitable for the communities they serve.

Other community organizations such as Crenshaw Subway Coalition, Alliance for Community Transit (actLA) and SAJE have been calling for more work to address these barriers that may make it more difficult for everyday residents to use transit.

Zarate said the influence of the Olympics makes it harder to push for improvements in public transit when L.A. Metro and the city are focused on expanding by the 2028 deadline.

“We can’t do the things we want to do with operations and improving services and going fareless, because we’re wasting money, ballooning policing contracts and expensive capital projects that go over budget all the time,” Zarate said. “How do we make sure we are investing in this vital infrastructure for people?”