Leafbox
Leafbox Podcast
Interview: The Antiplanner / Randal O’Toole
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Interview: The Antiplanner / Randal O’Toole

Iconoclast Randall O'Toole on Urban Planning Realities: Cycling, Housing Preferences, the Future of Transportation and More

Randal O'Toole, an American policy analyst, discusses his maverick career, non consensus views on urban planning, transportation, and housing in this interview. 

O'Toole runs the Thoreau Institute as well as the popular policy blog, The Antiplanner. He has written several books and hundreds of policy papers from a free market perspective on urban planning, government policy, housing, rail and other related land use topics. We explore his belief that urban planners often impose their preferences on the public, such as imposing restrictive land use planning codes to “force” people to live in apartments and use public transit, even though most people prefer single-family homes and driving. O'Toole also shares the impact of the pandemic on urban planning, reinforcing existing trends such as people moving to the suburbs and working from home. We discuss the potential of autonomous vehicles in replacing public transit in the future as well as his views on cycling. 

In this interview, O’Toole critiques the idea of planning itself and promotes the repeal of federal and state planning laws and the closure of state and local planning departments. He explores in detail why planning fails, through documentation of planning disasters, while giving context of his perspective on land use issues in Hawaii such as cycling, light rail, affording housing, and agricultural lands as well as providing solutions for environmental protection and stewardship.

Topics / Time Stamps

  • (2:08) On Biking in Oahu

  • (12:33) Educational Background and Current Work

  • (16:05) Economics vs Planning

  • (20:31) The Iconoclastic Mindset

  • (24:25) Buses vs Light Rail

  • (26:55) Criticism of the Honolulu Light Rail System

  • (33:47) On New Urbanism

  • (43:45) Urban Planning and the Pandemic

  • (46:16) Solutions to non utilized urban cores / skyscrapers 

  • (49:06) The Iron Triangle

  • (51:30) Autonomous vehicles as an alternative

  • (54:07) Houston as Model

  • (59:18) Incentive-based conservation

  • (1:04) The Grassroot Institute

  • (1:06) Hawaii Land Use Reforms Recommendations

  • (1:12) Vacancy Taxes as Symptom 

  • (1:15) On Optimism

  • (1:17) Policy Briefs 


The Antiplanner:
 https://ti.org/antiplanner/

Policy Briefs: https://ti.org/antiplanner/?page_id=16274

The Education of an Iconoclast: https://ti.org/antiplanner/?page_id=16272


Leafbox:

Today I had the pleasure of speaking and learning from Randal O'Toole. He's an American policy analyst. He's written several books, hundreds of policy papers, and he provides solutions from a free market perspective to various problems. He runs a popular blog called The Antiplanner, and he's featured in several debates on urbanism, environmentalism, government policy. But today I was curious about exploring his biography and discussing his memoir, the Education of an Iconoclast. We discussed his shift from forestry to economics, his 50 year career, his thoughts on light rail and other transportation, housing solutions, bus, Hawaii, top down urban planning, Houston as a model for development and other topics. I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for listening.

Leafbox:

Hi, good afternoon, Randal.

Randal O'Toole:

Can you hear me?

Leafbox:

Now I can. Perfect. Thank you for your punctuality and for rearranging the meeting. I know you're a busy man.

Randal O'Toole:

Great.

Leafbox:

Well, Randal, I just thank you so much for your time. I've been reading your blog on and off for years and this morning I was biking. I live in Oahu, so I think that's important visual wise.

Randal O'Toole:

Oh, I hate biking in Oahu. It is so awful.

Leafbox:

I bike every day about 10, 12 miles to drop off my daughter back and forth. I was listening to some of your debates you've had with people, mainly James Kunstler and obviously I love biking. I wanted to start with biking. There are many debates you have online about the pros and cons of government planning and light rail, but I really wanted to start with your relationship with cycling and how that influenced your political evolution because I read most of your excellent biography and memoirs and I just wanted to understand how that cycling framework has influenced your analysis of cities and urban planning and design and everything.

Randal O'Toole:

Well, it's funny. One of the very first transportation issues I got involved in, it wasn't the first, but it was early. It was about 1975. I was invited to attend meetings of the bicycle advisory committee for the city of Portland. And I was an ardent cyclist. I didn't even have a driver's license at the time and I worked in downtown Portland and I lived in the east side, which if you know Portland means you have to cross the river. And Portland has, I think 11 bridges now. Only nine of them are open to vehicles and only seven of them are open to bicycles. And the lanes tended to be pretty narrow and there was a lot of on and off ramps on some of those bridges. So I went to the advisory committee and I said, you need to put some curb cuts to make it easy for bicycles to use the sidewalks so that they aren't blocking your narrow lanes.

A couple of the bridges, the lanes were only like 12 feet wide and there was no ability to pass because there were structures on both sides of the lanes. And so if you were bicycling, it was kind of scary to have cars pass you in this narrow lane if you were in the lane. Now there was a sidewalk, but you couldn't get up to the sidewalk without stopping and getting off your bike and lifting the bike onto the sidewalk and so on. So I said, put in curb cuts. And the city said, oh, we can't do that. It would be too dangerous when the bicycles come off, the cars wouldn't expect it. And they'd hit the bicyclists and two years later they put in all the curb cuts and all the places I recommended. So I stopped going to those advisory committee meetings, but they ended up doing what I recommended.

Now it wasn't because I had recommended it, it was because that was the logical place to put it. Since then, I occasionally participated in bicycle proposals, but today what I'm seeing is that the bicycle community has been captured by the anti automobile community. Even though at the time I didn't have a driver's license, I wasn't anti automobile, I was a follower of John Forrester. John Forrester wrote a book called, what was it called? Anyway, he argued that bicycles were vehicles by law, they were treated as vehicles and so they should act like vehicles. They should assert themselves when they were in very narrow lanes and make sure that cars knew they were there, occupy the whole lane if necessary, but usually they should try to be a part of the flow of traffic and not expect any special lanes or anything like that. In fact, he argued that bicycle lanes actually made traffic more dangerous.

What's happened since then is that we've had movements, pro bicycle movements that have made bicycle list feel like they are superior to other vehicles in traffic. There was a movement called critical mass where hundreds or thousands of bicyclists would go at rush hour one day a week and occupy some entire streets that were vital streets for people getting home and disrupt traffic as much as possible. And the bicyclists who were attending these critical mass events were told You were superior, cars are inferior, you should have the right of way over cars at all times. And what we saw happen was bicyclists then would go away from these critical mass meetings and be convinced that they were superior and they would insist on occupying right away and asserting right away when they didn't actually have it and they would get hit more frequently. And we've seen an increase in bicycle fatalities in recent years.

And I think that's partly because critical mass has warped the perspective of bicyclists. And so we've had cities adopt plans that they claim are to make streets safer. They call them vision zero plan. And these vision zero plans often call for taking a four lane street, in other words, a major collector street that's moving a lot of traffic and take away one of the lanes from the automobiles and make it into bike lanes. So you'd have a 12 foot lane turned into two six foot lanes, one for bicyclists going one way and one for bicyclists going the other way. That leaves three lanes. One of the lanes would be used for left turns and the other two lanes would be for traffic in two different directions. Now that kind of project is designed to safeguard bicyclists from being hit from behind by cars. Well, on average, about 3% of bicycle fatalities consist of people being hit from behind by cars.

Now I'm a cyclist. I know you're always nervous about getting hit from behind, but the cars see you, they know you're there, and so they watch out. They don't want to hit you any more than you want to be hit by them. So only 3% of fatalities are being hit by cars from behind. Half of all fatalities take place at intersections where the bike lanes disappear. So we're safeguarding against a very rare event and not doing anything about the kind of event that is responsible for half of all bicycle fatalities by putting in the bike lanes, we're sending a message to bicyclists that it's safe to ride on this busy street. So we get an increase in bicyclists riding on these busy streets, which means you're get an increase in bicyclists crossing busy intersections and getting hit. So we're making bicycling more dangerous by creating an illusion of bicycle safety that isn't real.

I would've done something completely different. I would've taken local streets that are parallel to those busy streets and turned them into bicycle boulevards, which means you remove as many stop signs as you can so that you can have through bicycle traffic with minimal stops, but put in a few little concrete barriers to discourage cars from using those streets as through street. So you now have streets that are open to cars for local traffic and open to bicycles for through traffic. And I've used bicycle boulevards in Berkeley and Portland and other streets and they feel a lot safer. They are a lot safer and they don't cause the imposition on cars. It happens when you take lanes away from cars. So that's my attitudes towards cycling, which is that bicycles are vehicles, cars are vehicles. One should not be superior to the other. In certain situations, cars have the right of way and other situations, bicycles have the right of way. The safest thing we can do is separate them when we can by putting bicycles on bicycle boulevards instead of by asserting that bicycles are safe, by putting them into bike lanes when actually we're making it more dangerous.

Leafbox:

So Randal, you mentioned that you don't like biking in Oahu. What specifically do you not like about biking here?

Randal O'Toole:

Well, you've got a lot of busy streets. Their lanes are narrow. There's often not bike lanes where you do have bike lanes. They have strangely put two-way traffic in one bike lane. And so you have a risk of hitting other bicyclists, but you also have the risk that not only do you have bicyclists going with the flow of traffic, you have bicyclists going in the opposite flow from traffic. And so you're compounding the risk of not just having the risk of getting hit from behind, but having the risk of a head on collision. And I don't see that as particularly safe. I've bicycled, the last time I got hit by a truck was when I was bicycling in Maui on a bike lane and the truck was turning left into a driveway. I was bicycling at about 20 miles an hour. There was a lot of traffic and the truck didn't see me before it turned and I didn't see it until the last second and got hit by this truck. So again, it's another situation where bike lanes do not increase safety. It would've been better if there had been a local bicycle boulevard and I think you could probably put some bicycle boulevards in Oahu, but they haven't done that. Instead. Mostly bicycles are then for themselves and there are those few bike lanes downtown, which I didn't find particularly well designed.

Leafbox:

Randal, I should have asked first, but for people who aren't familiar with your work, I'm a fan of Antiplanner, but how do you describe yourself? What's a quick summary of your actual work and education and framework?

Randal O'Toole:

Well, the funny thing is my training is as a forester and I spent the first 20 years of my career as a forest policy analyst. I was analyzing government plans, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management plans for mainly public lands, but also in some cases for private lands. That analysis carried over. I discovered that, well, what happened was is I was challenging the federal timber sale levels. They were selling a lot of timber, losing money at most of it, doing a lot of environmental damage. And in a nutshell:, we won federal timber sale levels declined by 85% between 1990 and 2000, and it was a great deal of that was due to my work. Part of it was due to the spotted owl, which I didn't really work on, but most of it was due to my work, which persuaded the forest service, that they were cutting too much timber and that they shouldn't be doing so much.

And so now having won that battle, I looked around for other battles to fight and came across battles that were going on with land use and transportation in the city I lived in, which was the Portland urban area. And extended that to found out that I was dealing with a movement that was a national movement that was trying to force people to stop driving, trying to force more people to live in apartments instead of single family homes. And since 98% of the travel we do in cities is driving, and since 80% of Americans want to live in single family homes, it seems to me that even though I was a bicyclist, I have to realize that most people don't bicycle. Most people drive. And even though I have lived in apartments, I have to realize that most people want to live in single family homes.

So I shouldn't be imposing my preferences on other people through some kind of planning process. So I began to challenge city plans, urban area plans, state plans, transportation plans, land use plans, and I discovered that there's a lot of similarities between forest planning and urban planning. Basically, forest planners think that there's these inanimate objects out in forest that they can make, do whatever they want. I actually found a forest plan that proposed they were going to grow trees to be 650 feet tall when the tallest trees in the world are less than 400 feet tall. Forest planners just thought they could imagine anything they want and it would happen. And urban planners think that there's these inanimate objects in cities that they can make, do whatever they want. And those inanimate objects are people and they think that, well, they can just force more people to live in apartments. They can just force more people to take transit or to bicycle instead of drive. And to me, those are very unappealing ideas and whether you're libertarian or not, you don't really like to think that somebody is trying to manipulate you to force you to use a much more expensive way of transportation or to live in a much less desirable home. That also happens to be more expensive than the single family home you might be living in. Now,

Leafbox:

When did that shift, I think in your memoirs, you started taking economics classes or was it when you were learning first computer modeling, when did that shift come in understanding reality versus imposed reality?

Randal O'Toole:

The funny thing was that when I was working on forest issues, I was making quite a name for myself. One Forest Service official told a reporter that Randal O'Toole has had more impact on the forest service than all the environmental groups combined. And so I would get speaking invitations and a professor at the University of Oregon Department of Urban Planning asked me to come and speak to his class, and I did at the time, I had a bachelor's degree in forestry and he said, you should go to graduate school, you should go to graduate school in our urban and regional planning department. And I said, well, I'm not really interested in urban planning. I'm interested in forest issues. He said, well, we also do regional planning, so they offered me funding support and things like that. So I said, okay, so I took the first terms worth of courses in urban planning and I looked around and I said, I shouldn't just take courses in one field.

I should also learn some other fields. And there was a course in urban economics, it was also a graduate course, and what I discovered was the urban economists didn't make any assumptions about cities. Instead, they looked at the data and then they tried to build for how the city works, they compared the model against the data and if the model didn't produce the data that they knew was real, they modified the model and then they compared that against the data and they kept modifying it until they got a model that came out pretty close to how the cities actually were working. So then they were able to ask questions of the model like what happens if you draw an urban growth boundary around the city and force the density of the city to get higher force higher densities, force more people to live in apartments instead of single family homes?

Will that result in more congestion or less? Well, the model clearly showed that although some people would respond to density by taking transit, most people would keep driving and the congestion would just get worse. Because you have more people driving per square mile of land because you'd have higher population densities? Well, in the urban planning courses, they asked the same question, and instead of building a model or looking at any data at all, they just said, well, I think if they were higher density people would ride transit more and so there'd be less congestion. And everybody in the class agreed. There were two urban planning professors in this class and they agreed and I said, no, the actual economic data show that the congestion would get worse. We went back and forth and finally one of the professors said, well, everybody's entitled to their opinion.

And that was the day I knew I wasn't going to become a planner, I was going to become an economist. So I stopped taking urban planning courses and I started taking economics courses and took a whole slew of those courses and still spent most of my time working on forest issues. And so I ended up not earning any degrees, but I think more like an economist than a planner. In fact, I think more like an economist than a forester. Foresters have a way of thinking. Geographers have a way of thinking. Landscape architects have a way of thinking. Economists and planners have ways of thinking, and I think like an economist. And so sometimes I'll call myself an economist even though I don't have a degree in economics. Sometimes I call myself a policy analyst even though I don't have a degree in policy analysis. My degree is in forestry. All of these things are alike in the sense that these planners and basically what I've spent my career doing is critiquing government plans. These planners think that they can impose things on the land or impose things on people that people don't want to have imposed on them.

Leafbox:

Going back to where does that iconoclastic mindset emerge from? I'm curious and how do you keep defending it? Why don't you go with the flow of the consensus?

Randal O'Toole:

Well, it's funny, I've always been an iconoclast. I grew my hair down well below my shoulders when I was in high school, which made the high schools vice principals hate me. I would leave school to go to anti-Vietnam protest marches or civil rights protest marches. I would skip school to go to environmental events and eventually started an environmental group in my high school when Earth Day came along that persuaded me that I should work on environmental issues. So I went to a forestry school where they taught people how to grow trees so they could cut them down and cut them up into forest products. And here I was not being real obvious about it, but being somewhat obvious because I was spending my summers doing internships, working on how to stop the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and other agencies from cutting down trees.

And so I was always out of step and that seems to have continued throughout my career. One interesting example lately has been bus rapid transit. I spent a lot of the last 30 years of my career critiquing urban transit systems and we'd see cities like Portland and Seattle spending billions of dollars on rail transit and Honolulu now spending billions of dollars on rail transit and I'd say, wait a minute, bus rapid transit can move more people faster, faster to more destinations than rail transit. So instead of rail transit, we should be looking at bus rapid transit, and now we're seeing cities say, okay, we'll do bus rapid transit, but we won't do the kind of bus rapid transit Randal O'Toole was talking about, which was running buses on ordinary city streets. But the buses only stop once per mile like a rail line, and so they're faster.

They don't have to stop as frequently and they'll be more attractive to passengers both because they're faster and they're more frequent. Instead of just doing that, we're going to build special lanes for the buses. We're going to build fancy stops for all the buses, fancy stations for all the buses to stop at. And so instead of spending a million dollars a mile on bus rapid transit, we're going to spend $50 million a mile or a hundred million dollars a mile on bus rapid transit. We're going to make bus rapid transit as expensive as building rail transit. Well, I've lost interest in that, and so I'm now no longer enthusiastic behind bus rapid transit. Instead, the kind of transit I've been advocating is express buses, nonstop buses throughout urban areas that will take people from lots of origins to lots of different destinations with intervening 20 miles an hour, which is the average speed for bus rapid transit or 11 miles an hour, which is the average speed for local buses. They'll go at 50 miles or 55 miles an hour because they'll be going on freeways for most of their routes. Nobody else in the transit industry is thinking about this. So I guess I'm ahead of my time. I was talking about bus rapid transit before they were, and now I'm talking about express buses before anybody else. We'll see if they follow.

Leafbox:

Randal. These are like the buses, the Bolt bus in Los Angeles or San Francisco or the Chinatown buses in New York to Boston or DC or those type of private industry buses.

Randal O'Toole:

Those are intercity buses. And the interesting thing about the intercity bus industry is it used to be tied down by bus stations. You'd have these expensive bus stations in every city and they'd have baggage clerks and they'd have ticket salesmen and stuff like that. And the kind of buses you're mentioning, they've abandoned all that. They go from curbside to curbside, which means they don't have to pay for a station. They let the passengers load their own luggage, which means they don't have to pay for baggage handlers. You buy your tickets on the internet, which means they don't have to pay for ticket agents.

And that led to a huge resurgence in inter city buses. intercity buses buses were on the decline for about 1960 to 2005, and you started seeing these infrastructure light buses, megabus and bolt bus and so on, and suddenly bus ridership, intercity buses bus ridership is increasing. So we look at the transit industry and instead of saying, let's see, we've got this great infrastructure out there, it's called roads and streets. Let's run our transit on roads and streets. Instead of saying that, they're saying, let's build a lot of infrastructure that's dedicated solely to urban transit, and it's going to be really expensive infrastructure. We can build a lane mile of road for half a million dollars, but we're going to spend a hundred million dollars building a mile of rail or $200 million. There are some rail projects now that are costing $500 million per mile of rail.

That's a billion dollars a route mile because we have a mile of rail going in each direction. So we're spending phenomenal amounts of money for something that's only going to be used by a few transit riders because transit only carries half a percent of all passenger travel in this country. Before the pandemic, it was 1%, but now it's down to about a half a percent. Maybe it'll get us way back up to three-fourths of a percent. We're spending billions and billions of dollars on this tiny percentage of travelers with buses. We could attract the same number of people, move the same number of people, probably more people for a lot less money because the buses can go faster. Even New York City subways average less than 30 miles an hour, and buses on freeways can average 60 miles an hour.

Leafbox:

So Randal here in Hawaii about the new HART (Light Rail), I'd love to just a quick summary of your critiques of that system and why you think it was built.

Randal O'Toole:

Well, of course, when they first planned it, they said it was going to cost less than 3 billion. And in fact, the original proponents said that fares were going to pay not only all the operating costs, but they were going to pay part if not all of the capital costs. Well, the costs have exploded to well over $9 billion. The Federal Transit Administration thinks that by the time they're done, it's going to be $12 billion and they've run out of money. So they're saying we're not going to be able to finish it all the way immediately. Eventually we might get enough money to be able to finish it, but not right away. And the ridership numbers they were projecting were probably way too high. Certainly they're not getting anything close to what they were expecting with the part that's opened. That's partly because it's not finished and you look at it and all it really is a bus route.

They could have done exactly the same thing with buses. They could have gone just as fast if not faster with buses. They persuaded people to go for it. They said it's going to relieve congestion. Well, it's not going to relieve congestion. In fact, their own data show the congestion is going to increase near the transit stops because people were going to be slowing down and stopping there to pick up and drop off rail riders instead of people walking to the rail stations that were going to drive to the rail stations and have somebody drive them and drop them off. So their own data showed it was going to increase congestion, but they convinced people it was going to reduce congestion. And the onion had a great story many years ago saying 98% of American commuters want other people to ride transit so that they can drive in less congested traffic.

So transit agencies in Honolulu, in Los Angeles and San Diego and cities all over the country had convinced people to go for these extremely expensive transit projects by claiming that it was going to reduce congestion when in fact, on almost every case, it made congestion worse. And we made these critiques of the Honolulu Rail project before they began, before it began, the city council ignored us. They were heavily pressured by the unions that wanted jobs for constructing it. When the construction is done, there aren't going to be any jobs. The transit is automated, there aren't going to be jobs for drivers, there's going to be some maintenance jobs. There's going to be a tiny fraction, the jobs that they're getting for building. And so it was just basically unions and contractors wanted to build it. They threw money into the right campaign funds, and so politicians supported it.

So we end up seeing, and we're seeing us all over the country, we're seeing it for high speed rail, we're seeing it for Amtrak. We're seeing this what's called the iron triangle, which is people who make money from tax dollars in one corner of the triangle, the bureaucracy that another corner of the triangle and the politicians at a third corner of the triangle, the politicians appropriate money to the bureaucracy, which then give it out to the contractors who spend it and then who then take some of that money and use it for campaign contributions to the politicians. Very hard to break that triangle. We have found that if a measure goes on the ballot and we can spend 10% as much money as a proponent spend, we can usually reach enough voters to convince 'em to vote it down. But if we only reach five, only spend 5% as much as the proponent spend, it usually passes because they drown us out with their claims that it's going to relieve congestion and is education.

It's convincing people to be skeptical of government. We've got this huge movement now that's skeptical of capitalism and they don't realize that a lot of government is really crony capitalism where people take money from government to build up their companies. You've got companies that exclusively live off of government spending, and you see this in transportation. We've got all these engineering and consulting firms like Parsons Brinkerhoff, which has now got a new name WSR and HDR and a bunch of other companies, and they overtly lie. HDR has made a specialty of going to cities and saying, if you build rail transit, you're going to get billions of dollars of economic development. Look what happened in Portland. They built a light rail line and they got a billion dollars of economic development. They don't mention the fact that Portland got zero economic development after it built the light rail.

So 10 years after it opened the line, it threw a billion dollars in subsidies to developers along the light rail line, and those developers then put in new developments and they said, look, we built the light rail line. We've got all this new development. Well, you didn't mention the billion dollars in subsidies: where you didn't put in the subsidies, you got no new development, or you did put in the subsidies and you didn't have light rail, you got new development. It was the subsidies, not the light rail that got new development. HDR lies to people and claims it's the rail transit that got the new development. They even hired a city counselor in Portland, the person who had originally proposed these subsidies, and he traveled around the country telling cities that they put in the rail lines and they got all this development. He never mentioned the subsidies that he himself had initiated on the Portland City Council.

So you need to educate people and we need a skeptical public. We need people in the public who aren't going to automatically assume that government is good and that private operations, private companies are automatically bad. Private corporations aren't necessarily purely good, but given a choice between a public agency and a private corporation, I would rather have the private corporation because I can at least decide not to patronize that company if I don't like their products or what they do. Whereas when the government does something, I'm stuck with having to pay taxes for it whether I like it or not.

Leafbox:

What are your thoughts on New Urbanism? I think you've had debates with James Kunstler and have any of your thoughts changed or evolved or

Randal O'Toole:

Yes, they've evolved. I originally didn't like it and now I hate it. I originally thought new urbanism was a little misguided. Now I think they're delusional. Totally delusional. New urbanism is the idea that people will be happier if they live within walking distance of shops, of coffee shops, of stores of transit stops, maybe even within walking distance of work that people will be healthier if they're within walking distance. The way to do that is to build a lot more apartments because that's the way to get the density you need to get people living within walking distance. And so new urbanism effectively supported the urban planners who are trying to have urban growth boundaries around cities and densify the cities and increase the apartments. And if you look at the history of new urbanism, it basically came in the 1990s from a group of architects and planners who read a book that was published in about 1960 called The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

The book was written by an architecture critic at the time named Jane Jacobs. She lived in Greenwich Village, New York City at the time, the urban planning profession believed that high density apartments were bad. Most of the big cities like New York and Chicago and Boston had a bunch of apartments that had been built before the turn of the 20th century. They were like four and five and six stories tall. They didn't have any elevators. You had to climb up all these staircases if you lived on an upper floor to get to your apartment. At the time they were built, elevators had just been invented or they hadn't even been invented yet. High speed electric elevators dated to 1891. So a lot of these were built before the elevators. They were built for people who couldn't afford to ride a street car to work. And so you had blocks of apartments that had like 5,000 people living per block, and they were within walking distance of blocks of factories that had like 3000, 4,000 people per block of factories.

So people would walk, from the apartment for the factory. Well, after the turn of the 20th century, we got Henry Ford developed the moving assembly line for automobiles, and he made automobiles so cheap that everybody who was living in those apartments could afford to buy them. And the moving assembly line required so much land that all the factories moved out of downtowns into the suburbs. So the jobs moved to the suburbs, the people who bought cars that a lot of them moved to the suburbs, they could live in single family home instead of apartments. And after World War ii, we could see those apartments were not very desirable. And so in 1949, Congress passed a law that gave the cities money for urban renewal that was to be used to clear these apartments out and replaced them with something else. Well, the cities didn't want to replace 'em with single family homes because they didn't think they'd get as much tax revenue for the single family homes.

So for the most part, the cities were replacing them with high rise apartments with elevators. In the 1930s, there was a crazy architect from Switzerland who called himself Le Corbusier , which I think means the crow, and he thought that everybody should live in high rise apartment. I don't know why he thought that, because he himself never lived in a high rise apartment. He lived in low-rise, but he thought cities should build highrise apartments. So the urban planning fad of the 1950s was to build high-rise apartments, not just in American cities, but all over the world. You go to South Korea and the cities, all of them have high rise apartments. You go to Japan, you go to China, you go to Russia, you go to Paris, you go to cities everywhere you find all these high-rise apartments. They were all inspired by this kooky architect named Lake Buer who thought people should live in a way that he himself didn't want to live.

So here comes Jane Jacobs. They want to tear down her apartment building and put in a high-rise, and she says, urban planners don't understand how cities work. Well, she was right about that. Urban planners don't understand how cities, but then she went on to say something that was totally wrong, which was that she, Jane Jacobs understood how cities work, and the way she described an ideal city was you had five story apartment building and with all this density, the ground floor would be shops and people would entertain their guests out on the street. She didn't say this apartments were so small, there was no room for entertaining guests. So you'd entertain the guests out on the streets, so you'd have people playing out on the streets, they'd be barbecuing out on the streets, they'd be shopping out on the streets because the shops are out on the streets, so there wouldn't be any crime because everybody would be able to see everything that was going on because they'd all be down on the streets all the time.

You'd have these lively streets, it'd be so exciting to live in them. It'd be a wonderful place to live. And that's what a real city was like. She didn't understand that what she was describing was an artifact from the 1880s that people were moving out of as rapidly as they could and that, despite her claims, they did have high crime rate. The people didn't want to live in buildings, so they had to climb up to five stories, four, four or five stories on stairs to get to their apartments that they're moving out. She herself didn't live in a five story building. She lived in a three story building. I don't know if she lived on the second floor or the third floor. I suspect her apartment was probably on both floors because she was welted due. Her husband had a good job, she got a good job.

They lived in this three story building. There was a shop on the ground floor and they had to walk up, I think one floor to get to the main part of their apartment. So she didn't understand what it was like having to walk up three, four, and five flights of stairs to get to apartments on the fourth, fifth, and sixth floors. Doubly ironic, in 1968, her son decides to dodge the draft because he didn't believe in the war in Vietnam. So he moved to Canada. She decided to move to Canada with him, and she made so much money selling her book, the Death and Life of Great American Cities that she bought a single family home in Canada. She didn't live in a mid-rise apartment, and she moved to a single family home. And yet the urban planners who were young in the 1960s and becoming dominant in the 1990s who had read her book said, yes, we were wrong to try to force people to live in high rise apartments.

We should instead try to force people to live in five story apartments like the apartments that she described in the Death and Life of Great American Cities, like the apartments in Greenwich Village. So instead of saying, alright, let's build some of these five story apartments in the inner cities in Portland and Denver and Seattle, they said, let's build these five story apartments everywhere. Let's build them in the suburbs. Let's build them in rural areas. Let's build 'em everywhere. All urbanites should live in these five story apartment buildings. And so we're seeing them spring up all over the place. Most of them are subsidized because as I say, 80% of Americans want to live in single family homes, not in apartments. 

We even had an urban planner write a paper that was very popular in the urban planning profession that said by the year 2025, and he wrote this in about 2002 or something. By the year 2025, people aren't going to want to live in single family homes anymore, and we're going to have a surplus of 22 million single family homes in the suburbs. The suburbs are going to turn into slums because everybody living in those suburbs are going to have moved into apartments in downtown. And so what urban planners should do today is get ahead of the situation by getting their cities to build more apartments, building more apartments in the suburbs, replace these icky single family homes that people won't want to live in so that we won't have a shortage of apartments when people want them. Well, of course, we're two years away from 2025. We have people moving away from cities as fast as they can before the pandemic where there were polls that showed that 40% of people who were living in dense cities wanted to move to suburbs or rural areas. And we had the same polls showed that more people wanted to live in suburbs that actually lived in them, and that was in 2018. And then the pandemic comes along and people just flee these dense cities, the populations of San Francisco and New York and others, Portland and Seattle, they're all declining and the populations of their suburbs, some cases are growing the populations of small towns. Boise, Idaho is the fastest growing city in the country.

The guy was just totally wrong. And yet we have suffered for two decades under urban planners who have tried to force these ideas on cities by subsidizing, by taxing people, and then subsidizing these high density apartments that people don't really want to live in.

Leafbox:

Randal, talking about the pandemic, how has that changed or affected your outlook on urban planning or on where people want to live? Or do you have the same critiques of the subsidies of suburban living or

Randal O'Toole:

All the pandemic has done is reinforced the ideas I already had. A pandemic doesn't really change things. What it does is it reinforces trends that are already happening. We already had a trend where people were buying cars and stopping the use of transit. Transit ridership declined every year from 2014 to 2018. It recovered slightly in 2019, but not much. Most cities still declined. About 45% of our transit takes place in New York City. And what happened was it grew in New York City in 2019. It's still declined almost everywhere else, but the growth in New York City overcame the decline everywhere else, but basically people were still buying cars. Gas prices dropped in 2014 and that just killed transit everywhere except New York City.

And then we have the trend to living in suburbs. We have the trend of wanting to live in single family homes as soon as people could afford to do so. They would buy a car and then they could live out in the suburbs where they didn't have to be in a lot of congestion or they didn't have to deal with crime or they didn't have to deal with pollution and things like that. And all the pandemic did is it reinforced all those things before the pandemic. You might've thought everybody who wanted to move to the suburbs had already done, but no, it turns out a lot more people wanted to move to the suburbs, but by the pandemic allowed more people to work at home and that led more people to say, okay, now I can move to the suburbs. Or before I couldn't because I was required to work in an office that was too far away from the place I wanted to live in the suburbs. So we now have people who maybe work in an office one day a week, but live a hundred miles away from that office and instead of driving 20 miles five days a week, they're driving a hundred miles one day a week each way and living far, far away from the density that urban planners had made for them.

The pandemic didn't change my views, it just reinforced them.

Leafbox:

What is your solution for the urban cores that are the skyscrapers of New York and the developers that built up that infrastructure? What are they supposed to do with these remote work is a challenge for 'em?

Randal O'Toole:

I think the government shouldn't do anything. I think the developers are going to have to figure it out for themselves. The owners are going to have to figure out for themselves what to do with those offices. Solution number one is to find lower valued tenants. They have what they call Class A offices and class B offices and class A offices attract companies like Chase Manhattan and Wells Fargo and Class B attracts lower rung companies. Then you have Class C that attracts nonprofit groups and flea markets and antique stores and things like that. So the owners of these office buildings are going to have to accept a lower class of tenants. Now you hear proposals to convert office buildings to apartments, and I think the Biden administration just approved a bill that's going to offer money to developers to convert office buildings to apartments. The problem is you look at the way plumbing is set up in an apartment building, every single apartment has to have plumbing for kitchen and bathrooms.

And you look at the way plumbing is set up in an office building, they put the plumbing in this core of the building where the restrooms are and the outer reach of the building have no plumbing at all. So it's going to be very expensive to change office buildings into apartment buildings. And really it's cheaper to build single family homes than it is to build apartments, and it's probably cheaper to build single family homes than it is to convert offices to apartment buildings. If you didn't have urban growth boundaries around cities, you're not going to convert offices to apartments because people aren't going to be willing to pay that extra cost of living in an apartment. If you live in a place that does have urban growth boundaries, you've driven up the cost of single family homes to be two to five times greater than it ought to be, then maybe you'll be able to justify converting offices to apartments economically justify. But that's only because you've distorted the housing market totally rid of those distortions.

Leafbox:

Like you said, it's still the triangle, the iron triangle, because the developers are getting subsidies for their losses instead of just taking the loss and finding Class C tenants.

Randal O'Toole:

Well, that's going to happen in some places, but even with the subsidies, I don't think you're going to see a lot of apartment conversions in Houston or Dallas or Atlanta or Omaha or Raleigh, places where you don't have urban growth boundaries. And so housing is still pretty affordable. Single family housing is still pretty affordable. The new urbanists like to ask people, would you rather live in an apartment where you're within walking distance of coffee shops and grocery stores and your work? Or would you rather live in a single family home or you have to drive everywhere you go? Everywhere you go. And a lot of people will say the apartment, but if you ask a question honestly, you'd say, would you rather live in a 1000 square foot apartment that costs $400,000 that's within walking distance of a limited selection, high priced grocery store and a coffee shop?

Or would you rather live in a 2000 square foot single family home on a large lot that's with an easy driving distance of multiple grocery stores that are competing hard for your business, both on and on having a wide selection of goods to sell you. And there's not much congestion because you live in a low density area. Well, you asked a question that way. You mentioned that your 2000 square foot house only costs $200,000, whereas to 1000 square foot apartment costs $400,000, even without the cost, you're going to find a lot more people saying they want the single family home. And when you add in the cost, the preference for single family homes just zoomed upward. So in Houston, you're not going to see a lot of conversions. You'll probably see a bunch of conversions in San Francisco, but do people really want to live that way? I think people are being forced to live that way, and I don't like the fact that planners are getting away with forcing people to live in ways they don't want to live. What

Leafbox:

Are your thoughts? I think you're a proponent of autonomous vehicles as an alternative to public infrastructure and public transport. Could you expand on that?

Randal O'Toole:

Well, I'm not so much a proponent, as I see that's the wave of the future. So we see cities like Seattle spending gobs of money. I mean, Seattle's got spending like 90 billion on light rail when autonomous vehicles, once they're applied to Seattle are going to be just destroy light rail as a mode of transportation. Who's going to want to ride light rail when you're going to be susceptible to diseases that you can catch from other people on the train? There's going to be crime on the train, and it only goes when the rail is scheduled, not when you want to go, and it only goes where that we've spent billions of dollars building the rail lines and not where you want to go. Whereas you could call up an autonomous vehicle, have it come to your door, take you to your door, and it's going to cost you probably not much more, maybe even less than when you count all the subsidies.

It's certainly going to cost less than the light rail. So it's going to happen. I mean, it's happened in San Francisco. Waymo has just announced that they're serving the entire Phoenix metropolitan area now just 550 square miles. Cruise is shut down in San Francisco temporarily in response to calls because there was one accident. But the data show that even as primitive as it is today, we've the autonomous vehicles that have traveled millions and millions of miles have only had about one fifth as many accidents per million miles. They travel as human-driven vehicles. The pressure is coming from the taxi drivers, the truck drivers, the people whose jobs are going to be lost when they're replaced by autonomous vehicle, and they're the ones who are putting pressure in California to try kill autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. But it's going to happen. And since it is going to happen, we shouldn't be spending money on these 19th century forms of rail transportation that are slow and expensive and don't go where people want to go.

Leafbox:

Talking about international frameworks, you travel, you went to Switzerland and you're going to Canada and you're a fan of rail. Where can Americans learn? Who's doing planning, right? Who's letting, is it Singapore, is it Tokyo? Where's the most ideal framework for development in your opinion, meeting the needs of this civilian, the government, and just where do you find that balance?

Randal O'Toole:

Houston. Houston is the closest I can come to the ideal. Houston has no zoning. Texas counties are not allowed to zone. And so Houston is surrounded by lots, some suburban cities that are incorporated. The biggest one is Pasadena. They don't have any zoning. Other Incorporated cities around Houston do have zoning, but what happens is the developments take place in unincorporated areas. The developers build houses that people want. They build homes for the market. They do build some multifamily, but they build mostly single family. And then these developed areas then get annexed into the suburbs and the suburbs then sometimes apply zoning. Sugar land is one example of that. Almost all of sugar land was built in unincorporated areas and then annexed into the city. Even the city hall was built when it was unincorporated, and then they annexed it into the incorporated area. So the zoning only came after it was built.

And so the developers were able to build the kind of houses that people wanted. And one of the things that developers found is that if you're going to buy a single family home, you want to have some assurance that nobody's going to put in a gravel pit or a meat packing factory or a brick factory or something like that right next door to you. And so the developers did something that was like zoning. They put protective covenants on the properties. They said All the homes in this neighborhood have to be a certain size. All the homes in this neighborhood have to be a certain size or whatever, and the lots have to be a certain size and so on. And what happens is when you do that, if you're a developer, you don't get more money from your lots, but they sell a lot faster.

It doesn't increase the cost. There's no cost of putting these covenants on, but they sell a lot faster. These covenants are actually developed decades before zoning, and they were so successful that zoning was invented by cities to apply to existing single family neighborhoods to increase home ownership. Home ownership rates went from about 15% in cities in 1890 to over 50% by 1960, because people had the assurance that if they bought a home, it wasn't going to be degraded in use because the next door neighbor decided to put in something that was incompatible, whether it was zoning or protective covenants. So Houston has protective covenants in all these suburban developments, and these covenants are flexible. If a developer says, look, your neighborhood has these covenants in and they're incompatible with the development I want to put in, but I think my development will sell really well, I'll pay you to change your covenants.

And some neighborhoods have agreed to do that so that the developers can put in something that they think is more marketable than the kind of housing that's in that neighborhood and people's taste change. So these kinds of things do happen over time. Now, another thing that's happened is that some of the suburban counties around Houston have toll road authorities, and they are funded exclusively out of their tolls. They build roads rather economically. They build freeways that are cost about $5 million a lane mile, and they build these freeways to get from the suburban communities that are being built by developers who are using protective covenants to get from these suburban neighborhoods to downtown Houston. So Fort Bend County, for example, has several freeways that is built exclusively with toll roads that are paid for solely out of tolls. They don't get any gas taxes, they don't get any tax dollars, and I consider these to be very successful.

Now nobody is perfect. Houston. After voting down light rail a couple of times, they managed to persuade them that voters that if they built light rail, it would relieve congestion. And so they ended up building some light rail lines That to me, have been total disasters. Transit ridership in Houston was growing before they started building a light rail is now lower than it was in the last couple of years before light rail opened. Because they spent so much money on the light rail, they ended up cutting back on their bus service and you lost more bus riders than you gained rail riders. That's a pattern we've seen in Los Angeles and St. Louis and Sacramento and cities all over the country that you build rail and you lose riders because you end up having fewer bus riders than you gain rail riders. But overall, despite that quirk, the light rail problem in Houston, I say Houston is the place you should go to if you want to find out how cities could work without a lot of government plans

Leafbox:

As an environmentalist, you have a model called Incentive-based conservation. Could you just summarize that for people and how you think market reactions can help secure environmental rights and whatnot?

Randal O'Toole:

Well, I developed those ideas back when I was working on forest issues and the Forest Service and other agencies were doing a lot of clearcutting that clear cutting damaged wildlife habitat. It reduced recreation values because recreationists to the most valuable recreation was recreation in areas that were wild and where you had some solitude from other people and from big cities and from roads and things like that. And so the forest service is eagerly building roads, cutting down trees, damaging watersheds, damaging fisheries, damaging wildlife habitats. The best fisheries in Oregon, for example, are an area that have no roads, that have had no logging, the best salmon fisheries. So I looked at after years of looking at Forest service data, something hit me one day, and that was that the reason why the Forest Service was doing this is because Congress had inadvertently designed their budget to reward the Forest Service for losing money on environmentally destructive activities and to literally penalize the forest Service for either making money or doing environmentally benign activities, activities that were not bad for the environment.

And certainly they didn't reward them for doing environmentally good activities. And so the Forest Service was merely following its incentive. I wrote a whole book about this. It was called Reforming the Forest Service. It came out in 1988. In 1989, the Forest Service sold 11 billion Ford feet of timber started declining in 1990. By 2001, it had fallen to one and a half billion board feet of timber. It had fallen by 85%. And people in the Forest Service came to me and said, we read your book and we thought you were accusing us of being corrupt. And then this guy said, the guy told me, I suddenly realized last week I had signed off on a timber sale so I could get a bigger budget. And they stopped doing that. They stopped saying, they said, we don't want to be motivated by our budget to do these bad things anymore.

And so they stop these environmentally destructive timber sale. I didn't think that was going to happen. I thought we would have to change their incentives. So I talked about incentive-based conservation. I said, we should charge recreation fees. We should charge fees, bigger fees for fishing and hunting. Right now, when you fish and hunt, technically under federal law or under US law, the animals you fish and hunt are owned by the states. But if you, on national forest, the land you're hunting on is owned by the federal government. So right now you pay a hunting fee to the state, but you don't pay anything to the federal government. I said, you should also have to pay a fee to the federal government to hunt on federal land or fish on federal land. If you did that, I pointed out then private landowners would also be able to charge fees, and you'd see both federal and private landowners modifying their activities so that they would enhance wildlife habitat, enhance fisheries, and enhance recreation opportunities.

We'd have more recreation, not less if we were willing to pay fees. And so my solution to the forest problems was to charge recreation fees to balance the fees from timber cutting and grazing and mining. And the forest services own numbers showed that recreation was worth more than all the other activities combined. So they would make a pretty good balance. I got quite a few environmentalists supporting this. But then in the mid 1990s, the environmental movement kind of got taken over by people who believed in top down planning, they believed that the president should make all the decisions for every single timber sale. And if a timber sale didn't meet their approval, they literally went to the president of the United States and got him to call up the district, not him, but one of his age, to call up the district ranger and say, don't do that timber sale. It drove the Forest Service bureaucracy nuts because these people in the administration in the White House were overruling 'em. And so incentive-based conservation didn't get very far. Now we're seeing some people in the environmental movement going back and recognizing that this top down planning doesn't work very well, and they're beginning to look at these ideas again.

Leafbox:

Randal, as you had that interview with the Grassroots Initiative here in Hawaii discussing housing policy, what's your relationship with them? And my other question is, do you have an opinion on vacancy taxes for Hawaii or other places?

Randal O'Toole:

Alright, well, you're talking about the Grassroot Institute, not plural, but Grassroot Institute, and they're a state-based think tank in Hawaii. And I work with state-based think tanks all over the country. Recently, I've done work for state-based think tanks in North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, a lot of different states and Hawaii. And some of them have hired me to do some work. Some of them just asked me to comment in Zoom meetings or in podcasts or radio interviews or whatever. But the Grassroots Institute is one of a great network state-based think tanks that I'm happy to be working with and for as much as I can. Even when I worked for the Cato Institute, which is a national think tank in Washington dc, I really saw my job as being a liaison from Cato to these state-based think tanks because most people in Cato working on national or international issues, I was one of the few in Cato who was working on local issues like housing or transportation issues. And so I've always had a good relationship with the Grassroot Institute. The director and their staff are great people and they do good work on housing and a lot of other issues in Hawaii.

Leafbox:

And then what are your thoughts? I mean, you advocated for a voucher model, just to summarize that for meeting affordable housing and then if you have any thoughts on vacancy taxes. Many people want to apply vacancy tax in Hawaii for empty units or empty second homes or I'm just curious if you've studied that at all.

Randal O'Toole:

Well, Hawaii was the first state in the country to try to restrict the development of single family homes. And it's such an irony because in the 1950s, most of the land in Hawaii was owned by the five companies, Dole and so on, and the bishop estate. And if you wanted to own your own home in Hawaii, often you couldn't find land to own it on something like 99% of the land was owned by one of these six entities. So you would have to lease land from one of these entities and build your home on it. And the five companies were agricultural companies and they weren't interested in leasing land for homes. They wanted to grow pineapple and sugarcane and other crops on their land. And so you had this huge housing crisis in Hawaii in the late 1950s. And at the time, in the early 1950s, Hawaii's legislature, territorial legislature was run by Republicans and they were very sympathetic to the five companies, and they weren't sympathetic to the people who needed housing.

Well, the late 1950s, the Democrats took over and they took over on a promise of land reform. They promised that they would force the five companies and the bishop estate perhaps to sell some of their land to use for housing so that people could find affordable housing. Well, the Democrats won and in 1961 they passed their land reform cap package and it did exactly the opposite of what they promised. Instead of requiring the companies to sell the land, they declared all the rural land in the state, most of which was owned by these five companies. They declared that land off limits to developments. They said the only land you could develop was urban land. This story is told by a great book called Land and Power in Hawaii. I recommended to all your listeners if they're from Hawaii. And what the Democrats discovered was that as legislators, they could make exceptions for themselves.

And so if you're a developer and you wanted to develop some land, you went to a state legislator and you made that legislator a partner in your development, the partner would then get the state to override the rules that had been passed by the state in response to the law you passed so that you could have your land developed or your developer partners land development developed and you'd make all this money. And so it became quite a corrupt system, and that's a system that governs Hawaii. To this day, only about 14% of the land in Hawaii has been developed. There's lots of land even in Oahu. Most of the land is still undeveloped. It's rural land that could be developed. And the real irony is supposedly the 1961 law that reserved all these rural areas where supposed to protect the agricultural industry, and yet the farm industry has practically died in Hawaii.

Why? Because the farmers can't afford to hire farm laborers and pay them enough money for those laborers to find housing and still produce pineapple and sugarcane and other produce that's competitive with farms in Costa Rica and Fuji and other places that haven't restricted housing. And so we've destroyed more than 80% of the farm industry in Hawaii just since 1982. It's been 80%. So since 1961, it's been more than 80%. In order to preserve the farmlands, we had to destroy the farms. That to me is a very sad commentary on what's happened in housing. Now, since housing has gotten expensive, we've come up with all these wacko ideas to make housing that's affordable. One wacko idea is build high density housing, build more apartments. Well, it turns out apartments cost twice as much per square foot to build as single family homes, maybe more than twice as much if it's really tall, partly because you have to put in elevators.

If you're building taller than two or three stores, you have to put in elevators. They're really expensive, more steel, more concrete. It just makes housing a lot more expensive. So you're not building affordable housing when you build apartments. And yet we have all these subsidies that we're throwing at developers that are inefficiently building expensive housing, but it's subsidized housing. And so then they can rent it at lower rates. Then we come up with crazy ideas like, oh, Airbnb is using up all the housing. Well, if we didn't have these restrictions on housing, we could build more housing. There'd be enough housing for Airbnb, there'd be enough housing for vacation homes, and there'd be enough housing for year-round residents. It's only because of the land use law that restrict housing, restrict new development that's made housing expensive. So the number one priority of anybody who cares about affordable housing should be to abolish the state land use laws, not just modify them to increase the amount of urban land, but totally abolish them. We'd see a lot more development on Oahu. We'd see a tiny bit more development on the other islands. Not much. Most of the land that's rural and the other islands would stay rural. At least half the land on Oahu that's rural would stay rural. Probably half of Oahu would stay rural, but there'd be a lot more development and housing would get to be a lot more important.

Leafbox:

And then what are your thoughts on the vacancy taxes that people want to implement?

Randal O'Toole:

Again, you're attacking the wrong problem. You're attacking a symptom, not the real problem. The problem is the land use law. And when you attack symptoms, you're not solving problems. It's like building affordable housing. Affordable housing is subsidized housing for low income people. Housing affordability, afford is a measure of how much housing costs for everybody. Housing shouldn't cost more than 30% of your income, but housing in Hawaii especially Oahu, is costing a lot of people 50% or more of their income. So that means instead of fixing the problem, we're spending more and more money tax dollars subsidizing affordable housing because so many more people are spending more than 30% of their incomes on housing.

Stop dealing with the symptom and start dealing with the problems. If you want to solve the problems, if all you want to do is look good, if you're a politician and you want to look good, then you deal with symptoms. And that's one of the problems with our economy is we've made governments so big, we've made the economy so complicated that people don't realize that the solutions that politicians come up with are only dealing with symptoms because it's easier for them to deal with the symptoms than it is to deal with the problems themselves. So many interest groups that benefit from creating problems. One of the beneficiaries from creating the housing affordability crisis are the developers who make money from the subsidy. So we've got this huge affordable housing industrial complex that gets money from taxpayers to build expensive housing that they then rent out at subsidized rates. And the developers make contributions to the politicians who appropriate the money for these funds. And Hawaii probably has a dozen different affordable housing funds. I know Portland has a dozen different affordable housing funds that are federal, state, and local funds that are all used to subsidize these developments that are really not affordable. The developers are making money from them, and a few people are getting to live in cheaper housing because of them.

Leafbox:

And then Randal, my last question is what are you optimistic about right now? You have a lot of critiques of government and incentives, but I'm curious what you're optimistic about.

Randal O'Toole:

It's hard to be optimistic today when you live in a country where one party thinks that they have unlimited purse strings and they can spend as much as they want on anything they want. And the other party is mainly oriented towards a socially conservative agenda that focuses on restricting people's personal rights as much as they can. And the middle of the road, which is let's have freedom of personal rights, and let's also have economic freedom where we're not taxing people to death and not restricting how people can use land and so on and so forth. That to me is a middle of the road position, and yet people aren't talking about that anymore. They used to be, if I'm optimistic about anything, it's maybe that the leader of one party will get convicted and the leader of the other party will become so senile that he won't run for office anymore.

Leafbox:

And then Randal, how can people find you? What's the best way for people who want more? Your policy briefs are very insightful…

Randal O'Toole:

Well, my blog is called the Antiplanner. Just Google Antiplanner or use DuckDuckGo or whatever your preference is to find the Antiplanner. I'm the first thing on the list. Technically it's ti.org. TI is the Thoreau Institute I started many years ago, Henry David Thoreau believed in wildness is the preservation of the world, and that government is best. It governs lease. So to me, Thoreau is the ideal combination of environmental and small government values. And so ti.org is my organization.

Leafbox:

Great. Randal, I'll give you the last word. Anything else you wanted to share?

Randal O'Toole:

Well, you mentioned the policy briefs, if you go to ti.org/Antiplanner, I post almost every weekday. But if you go up to the upper right hand corner, it says special features and one of them is policy briefs. I've got 150 policy briefs. They're average about four pages long on all kinds of different issues, wildfire housing, transit, highways, and so on and so forth. You also find the education of an iconoclast, which is my memoirs of 50 years of work in these fields. And then you can also find up on the menus above. There's Cato Institute, Thoreau Institute, an American Dream Coalition. I've written papers for all these organizations. I think I've written five or six papers for the Thoreau Institute just this year alone. So you can see all my latest papers. Those papers tend to be about 10,000 words long, whereas the policy briefs are only a couple thousand words long and are a good introduction to all these issues. There's at least one policy brief on the Honolulu rail, by the way.

Leafbox:

Great. Well, Randal, I really appreciate your time notes as well. Great. Thank you.

Learn more about @ ti.org/antiplanner

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