The Austin Chronicle

Beside the Point

The Mayor Goes A'Meetin'

By Wells Dunbar, January 26, 2007, News

What do mayors do when they convene? At the mere mention of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, BTP begins to dream in sepia tones, imagining monocled, moneyed men of yesteryear – some cross between the Monopoly tycoon and Mr. Peanut – crafting their best-laid plans. The idea of a conference of mayors simply sounds anachronistic or unbelievable, a national assembly of parochial interests seemingly as foreign as the Superfriends, or maybe the Legion of Doom. Or, if you're John Bolton, the United Nations.

Turns out that's far from the case. A cursory glance at the Conference of Mayors' Web site ( reveals a host of progressive issues, including a sizable devotion to combating global warming and climate change. Not entirely coincidentally, the U.S. Conference of Mayors' 75th Winter Meeting is under way at this writing, wrapping up Friday, Feb. 2. And when it comes to combating greenhouse gases, the conference's go-to guy is none other than our own mayor.

Will Wynn has hit the ground running at the mayor's conference – with a name like his, how couldn't you? He sits on the Executive and Climate Protection committees and chairs the Energy Committee, which really isn't all that surprising when you consider the time and resources he has devoted to pushing for plug-in hybrid vehicles. His green dreams and mayoral conferencing have overlapped before: Last summer, he got the conference to unanimously endorse a resolution endorsing plug-in hybrids, and he's also used his high-profile pulpit to advocate an industry jump-start through converting the U.S. Postal Service's fleet to hybrids.

Tuesday, before the conference kickoff in D.C., Wynn, along with Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett, briefed Congress on Austin's Plug-In Partners campaign. A joint project of Austin Energy and the city, Plug-In Partners has signed up some 508 groups across the nation – states, cities, municipalities, utilities, employers, and more – garnering more than 8,000 "soft" pledges to buy plug-in hybrids. The pledges weren't hard because, until recently, they meant little in substance – flex-fuel plug-ins weren't slated for the mass market. But with Chevrolet's recent announcement of the Chevy Volt, its first mass-market plug-in, followed by similar moves from Toyota and Nissan and Ford's announcement of the Edge, its plug-in hybrid prototype, that's about to change. While the announcements can't be laid out entirely at the feet of the partnership, the role Wynn and the Plug-In Partners played is quantifiable.

The partnership is one pillar of a more ambitious climate agenda Wynn will be presenting Thursday in D.C. The mayor will propose a cap-and-trade credit system to incentivize industries to pollute less, along with climate-conscious transportation, energy, and policy planning. More ominous is a call to plan and prepare for global warming's climate impacts, no doubt an outgrowth of Wynn's work welcoming Hurricane Katrina's survivors to our city. With Monday's announcement of the enviro/corporate U.S. Climate Action Partnership to press for emission caps, perhaps the ground is finally shifting.

Preparing against and circumventing the possibility of worse storms, exacerbated by rising oceans and unpredictable climates, may be the most important thing any of us – mayors or citizens – can do.

Back at council, when the mayor's away, not much else gets play. The latest cluster bomb in Austin's growth war, the Big Box Ordinance, looks stalled until Feb. 1 or 15, as winter weather froze its ascent through the Planning Commission. Additionally today, council sets a hearing on amending the city's somewhat confusing Vertical Mixed Use provisions, for the first of next month. But speeding along, after a long vetting process, is Item 14, tentatively approving a new taxi franchise for the city (see "Naked City"). No word yet on how many cabs will run on biofuel – hey, we can dream, can't we?

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