L.A. hasn't matched Sarajevo's Olympic zeal - but give it time
What struck Los Angeles officials when they trooped off to the Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo last month was the enthusiastic and accommodating demeanor of the locals.
Mayor Tom Bradley recalls waiting in 30- and 40-minute traffic jams, to and from events, that didn't upset anyone because of the general air of celebration and goodwill.
Los Angeles, he noted on his return, lacked the Yugoslavians' Olympic zeal. ''I don't think we have it yet.''
Indeed, the most often-heard Games plan around here is to get out of town until the whole thing blows over.
One woman flew to Sarajevo for the Winter Olympics, but she has already rented out her house during the Los Angeles Games while she skips town. Another resident, who lives near a major site of events in Westwood where some residents are wondering whether they will be able to get to or from their houses through car-jammed streets, plans to pack up a couple weeks' worth of groceries and stay home.
Public attitudes are an intangible aspect of staging the Olympics here this summer, but a vital one that has been stressed by Olympic and city officials in recent months.
Even Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates has admonished his officers to take the lead in lending an affable welcome to Olympic tourists.
At its best, public warmth toward the Games is a kind of lubricant that can make the massive Olympic machinery - and the city - run smoothly.
In the past, Olympic spirit has often not taken hold of host cities until the Games were actually underway.
In fact, the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics were held during the depth of the Great Depression. They were widely protested as an extravagance, and ticket sales, according to Olympic historian Andrew Strenk, were very low. But as events began, the local public warmed to the Games and they were considered successful.
Overall, Angelenos in 1984 are apparently willing hosts. A California Poll last October found that 68 percent of the public in Los Angeles and Orange Counties felt the Olympics were ''good'' for the area, to 21 percent ''bad.''
Surprising results, considering the negative public commentary of previous years, notes a spokesman for the organizing committee here.
Of course, the skeptical Angelenos agreed to host the Games only on the condition that none of their tax dollars would go toward paying for them.
But just how lightly the Olympics will tiptoe across the tax rolls has become an open question. A few politicians, both state and local, are concerned that indirect costs tied to Olympic traffic, such as for customs inspections and extra highway patrolmen, may surpass what Olympics organizers pay for.
On the other hand, the economic impact of the Games - beyond the $3.1 billion they have been projected to bring into the area - is not lost on the business community here.
''It has a long-range effect,'' observes Norman Mitchell, vice-president at Grubb & Ellis, a commercial real estate developer. The mostly affluent Olympic tourist, he says, will see a Los Angeles that has come of age and is full of energy.
''From an investment standpoint, it will show that Los Angeles is a good place to spend your money.''
Mr. Mitchell adds a caveat. ''We're all concerned that it does go smoothly, because if it doesn't it won't be a feather in our cap.''
The two issues keepers of the city's image are most concerned with are traffic jams and price-gouging by hotels and restaurants.
Traffic flow depends on convincing enough Angelenos and tourists to depart from local custom and ride a bus. Mayor Bradley and the local visitors bureau are working to keep prices down through peer pressure and threats to steer future business away from outfits that hike their rates during the Games.
The strongest feelings about the coming Olympics come from the neighborhoods where major events will be held, especially in the mostly ethnic-minority area around the Los Angeles Coliseum and the University of Southern California.
The feeling here, at least among some groups, is that the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee is giving such low priority to its dealings with this community that the calendar is overtaking them.
This concern was heightened when the committee recently fired the community relations aide that had spent 20 months establishing ties and developing programs in the neighborhood.
''If it were any other community,'' says Levi Kingston, president of the Consortium, a neighborhood group, ''people would be up in arms over what the impact (of the Olympics) would be on their daily lives.''
What Consortium members and others want from the organizing committee are jobs (43,000 temporary jobs will be created in the area), youth activities, and vending opportunities at good sites for people not yet certified by Olympic planners.
''We're just talking about the aspirations of some little people,'' Mr. Kingston says. ''It's no big deal.''
Locals like Kingston particularly want the large, and mostly idle, population of local youth to have a way to feel a part of the massive event in their neighborhood.
Freddie Williams, director of Los Angeles Youth Outreach, is concerned Olympic jobs will not be accessible to the youth in his organization, especially since most of them have criminal records.
''My young brothers are not inspired,'' he says. ''That concerns me. Young people all over the world are inspired by the Olympic Games. . . . That means something's wrong.''