On January 16, 2015, shortly after the city was selected by the USOC, Councilor Wu penned an op-ed in WGBH News calling for “informed independence and true debate” and opening up the conversation around Boston 2024. Her op-ed notes that “monthly public informational meetings are not enough” for public engagement and transparency: “It is neither fair nor realistic to expect residents across the city who are worried about making the mortgage payment or their kids’ homework, or small business owners concerned with making payroll and day-to-day operations, to bear the burden of processing and vetting all aspects of hosting the Olympics. She then outlines four steps for Boston 2024 and government leaders to follow in order to guarantee “true transparency and accountability.”
(1) Make information available online immediately: “…The full version of all relevant documents should be posted online to give access to the press and the public, not just those who can attend a briefing. Every document that has already been submitted to the USOC needs to be made public immediately in its original form and in its entirety. As new documents are drafted for the official IOC application, including financial guarantee letters, the Host City Contract, and insurance policies, these too must be made public promptly…”
(2) Ask for expert help: “Let’s engage local experts to ask hard questions by assembling an Olympic review commission with specialists in land use policy, municipal finance, and transportation planning to help vet the bid as it is being developed. This commission of experts should focus not only on the preparation for hosting the Olympics, but also on the transition after staging an Olympic Games…”
(3) Give cities a vote. “Boston 2024 should condition its bid on receiving affirmative approvals from each venue city or town by City Council vote….”
(4) Hold Boston 2024 to public disclosure standards. “….Boston 2024 should commit to releasing corporate tax returns, financial statements, donor lists, and other organizational documents as they become available and as they are updated.”
During the City Council hearing on March 6, 2015, Councilor Wu argued that Boston “doesn’t need the Olympics to be a great city.” She expressed concerns that inequity and gentrification could be exacerbated by hosting the Olympics. She stressed that the issue of cost overruns “needs to be mentioned over and over again” as school closures and tight budgets are already an issue. She also asked questions about transparency, inquiring when the public will be able to see what Boston 2024 submits to the IOC.
On April 9, 2015, when asked whether she supports a vote on Josh Zakim’s four proposed ballot questions, Councilor Wu replied, “I support a vote, though I want to think/hear more about the language of the questions.”
On April 10, Councilor Wu told the Jamaica Plain Gazette that she is “not convinced it’s a good idea.” She continued, “I’m keeping an open mind, but it will be coming down to seeing actual language concerning financing guarantees and affordable housing. I’m supportive of new ideas, but I’m looking to see that in writing and in detail.”
On April 24, 2015, Councilor Wu gave us the following statement:
“Boston doesn't need the Olympics to be a great city. Historically, the consequences of hosting the Olympics have ranged from disappointing to disastrous for cities in terms of displacement, municipal finances, local small businesses, and more. As I always hope to encourage new ideas and thinking big, I'm leaving open the possibility to be convinced that Boston could host a different type of Olympics that would provide opportunities for planning, affordable housing, infrastructure improvement, and inclusive economic development. However, the proponents must overcome a very high bar that they have not yet come close to meeting. The bare minimum requirements include transparency and specificity, as I noted in an op-ed I wrote three months ago. Promises are easy to make and easy to break - unless there is legally binding language to back it up. I will be looking for specific, enforceable language guaranteeing that residents won't have to bear the consequences of cost overruns. I'd also need to see specific benefits from bidding and hosting that would make Boston a better place to live for residents of all cultural backgrounds, neighborhoods and income levels.”
At our invitation, one of Councilor Wu's aides attended No Boston 2024's housing rights and displacement forum on May 14, 2015.
At the City Council hearing on May 18, 2015, Councilor Wu expressed concern that the financial guarantee required for the Olympics would be in violation of the City Charter. She explained that the Charter is very specific about the order in which things happen and that “Boston cannot sign any contract that puts the City on the hook for any amounts above and beyond what the City Council has appropriated until after the Council has acted.” She expressed related concerns about the insurance policy given that insurance covers liabilities that are legally binding. She also asked whether the IOC, following Agenda 2020, would be more likely to choose a host city that has to build fewer additional venues.
At the JP Progressives Candidate Forum on June 3, 2015, Councilor Wu echoed her response to No Boston 2024 and her past statements in City Council hearings. She maintained her premise that Boston does not need to host the Olympics to be a great city, and she noted that any transportation upgrades that we need to do we can do without hosting. She expressed concern about the history of cost overruns, gentrification, and displacement with the Olympics. She identified cost overruns as her top concern because of the diversion of funds from other priorities. She expressed opposition to the use of eminent domain to force out small businesses to make way for Olympic venues. She said that there needs to be a very high bar for Boston 2024, and it is certainly not there yet.
At the June 26, 2015 hearing on Olympic venues and finances, Councilor Wu asked a number of sharp questions. She noted that the responsibility of the Council is “to really dig into the details about what is public and what is private” and that the Council needs “to demand that taxpayer dollars be protected,” meaning that there must be a “different model than many of the host cities’ experiences.”
What is Boston 2024’s current thinking about the financial guarantee, given that the plan now has a broader geographic range? “Does it still make sense to have Boston sign as the host entity? Are you thinking about having the state sign as a potential guarantor if any public guarantee will be needed at all?”
Has Boston 2024 been able to confirm with the IOC that a private guarantee would be acceptable and that City would not have to sign the financial guarantee for any of the cost overruns?
The City Charter requires a “specific amount and a specific Council vote “if there are any future appropriations even contemplated.” A blank check vote would be a violation of the Charter. “Will the new budget have an estimate for what a potential guarantee or cost overrun would be?”
What would the impact of the financial guarantee be on the city’s bond rating?
Widett Circle, Gentrification, Land Ownership, and Post-Games Development
“How does it make sense for private investors to want to finance this? Usually when there’s a real estate deal, and the bank gets involved or individual investors get involved, they’re expecting to get some sort of return afterwards. Will there be a return plan—whether from land values or something else? Or if it is truly going to be torn down and moved elsewhere, how does it make sense for there not to be any need for public funding?”
“Who is planned to own the land in Widett Circle?...I personally would be very concerned about an arrangement developer or some other private investor would own the land anticipating all of the development rights that would come after that. I think that just creates incentives for gentrification and other things that we are all committed to tamping down as much as possible.”
“What happens in the zoning or rezoning will have direct impact on the value of the land. If we are having conversations with the current owners now about selling, and then rezoning it for a huge increase—say, luxury housing—that would be a bait and switch for the people who own the land now. What is the timing of getting into the granular rezoning of that parcel?..Will the developer have been chosen by the time the rezoning happened?”
Does Boston 2024 expect bank financing for the construction of the stadium? Zoning is taken into consideration in applications for bank financing because of what I says about the future value of the land. “I would hate to see a situation where we get locked into a certain type of zoning to get the financing because the incentives there are to maximize the luxury…and to have a bait and switch about what happens with it afterwards.”
Councilor Wu expressed the concerns she raised at the 6/26 City Council hearing in a 7/13/15 article of the Boston Business Journal . She noted that signing the financial guarantee could have a negative impact on the city's bond rating: "“Adding that contingent liability onto our balance sheet, even if it is contingent and not guaranteed, I think that could have an impact." And she noted that Boston 2024's talk about an insurance package does not assuage her concerns: “At the end of the day, insurance is trying to wallpaper over the fact the city would be on the hook."
On July 20, 2015, Councilor Wu expressed her support of Councilor Jackson's effort to subpoena Boston 2024 in order to obtain the full, unredacted version of Bid 1.0.
At the July 22, 2015 Council meeting, Councilor Wu spoke in favor of suspending the rules and passing Councilor Jackson's subpoena order, stressing that a "blank check on a tight timeline is a bad formula for Boston."
Contact Councilor Wu to tell her why you oppose the Boston 2024 Olympics bid.