Wells Dunbar

Online Editor

As  online editor for KUT News, Wells Dunbar covers news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond. Before joining the KUT family, Wells served as staff writer and news blog editor at The Austin Chronicle, and covered the Texas Legislature for Gallery Watch. Hailing from El Paso, Wells is a longtime Austin resident whose interests include technology and social media, film and music, and spending quality time with his wife and cat.

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Austin
1:30 pm
Wed November 28, 2012

Video: This 25,000-Bulb Christmas Light Show Brings 'Gangnam Style' to Cedar Park

The Storms house, lit up in the midst of "Gangnam Style."
youtube.com/user/listentoourlights

As of this writing, Korean pop smash “Gangnam Style” has over 840 million views on YouTube. Back in Austin, Christmas fanatic John Storms isn’t doing “Gangnam” numbers, but a video of his holiday light display synced to the song has racked up over 1.2 million views.

There’s good reason, as it’s not just any light show: Storms spends hours each holiday season syncing seasonal favorites and pop hits alike to a 25,000-bulb light display adorning his house in Cedar Park.

“We pick songs that we like,” Storms tells KUT News. Regarding “Gangnam Style,” he says “my kids came home singing this song that they did in P.E. to exercise to. We listened to it, and were like, ‘Wow, this is a lot of fun.’”

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The Lead
8:49 am
Wed November 28, 2012

The Lead: Austin, Travis County Reconsider Economic Incentives

Good morning, Austin’s in for a sunny but cool day, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s KUT News’ top overnight stories:

"The City of Austin will soon consider changes to its economic incentives program, which aims to lure companies to move here. Tuesday, a City Council committee drafted recommendations about living wages, training and workers’ rights. The committee heard from workers and business leaders about the proposal to require companies pay workers at least $11 per hour to qualify for incentives."

"Texans who live in larger cities need to be very careful about how they buy their electricity, because they may be paying too much.  StateImpact Texas reporter Dave Fehling has been looking into prices that have been kept secret."

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Waller Creek
4:44 pm
Tue November 27, 2012

Video: Inside Downtown Austin’s Waller Creek Tunnel

City staffers lead media on a tour through the Waller Creek tunnel this May.
Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

In May, the City of Austin invited members of the news media into the Waller Creek tunnel.

Meeting at the construction site at Fourth Street and I-35, reporters traveled down a 26-foot wide shaft, in a metal box lowered by a construction crane. At the time, some 1,300 feet had been excavated. When we checked back in in September, over 3,200 square feet had been excavated.

Above ground, the tunnel is designed to keep flood-prone Waller Creek in its banks. And just what to do with the acres of land pulled out of the flood plain is a hot topic: in October, a design team was named to plot the transformation of the Waller Creek area.

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Fun Fun Fun Fest
2:36 pm
Tue November 27, 2012

With $27 Million Impact, Fun Fun Fun Fest Joins the Big Boys

Crowds watch the stage on Fun Fun Fun Fest 2012's Friday night.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT

In its second year at Auditorium Shores, Fun Fun Fun Fest took off. Now the City of Austin puts that growth at $27 million – the amount the fest is estimated to have pumped into Austin’s economy.

The mayor’s office announced Tuesday that the three-day underground music festival attracted a total north of 55,000 attendees. The $27 million estimate was provided by the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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Austin Energy
1:09 pm
Tue November 27, 2012

Here Comes an Electric Vehicle Corridor From Austin to San Antonio

A map of the Texas River Cities program area. Dots represent utility-owned charging stations.
texasrivercities.com

Plans for a regional electric vehicle corridor are getting a $500,000 boost from the Department of Energy.

Tuesday, Austin Energy announced the federal grant, meant to bolster the Texas River Cities (TRC) initiative. A new effort, Texas River Cities is a partnership between electricity providers from Williamson to Bexar counties, with buy-in from Austin Energy, San Antonio’s CPS Energy, and several other city utilities and electric cooperatives. The idea is to promote plug-in electric vehicle travel in and along the corridor by promoting their use, offering more charging stations and creating integrated charging infrastructure and payment structures. It would also help relieve "range anxiety," the fear that an electric car will run out of juice, which keeps some away from making the jump to them.

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University of Texas
12:01 pm
Tue November 27, 2012

UT, Ryan O’Neal in Court Over Warhol Portrait of Farrah Fawcett

Another copy of Warhol's portrait was featured in a 2011 exhibit on the UT campus.
flickr.com/eelundgaard

A trial is underway to determine who owns a Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett: the late actress’s on-again, off-again companion, or the University of Texas.

UT and actor Ryan O’Neal face off in a Los Angeles courtroom today. When Fawcett died in 2009, she bequeathed her art collection to UT, her alma matter – including a silkscreened portrait of Fawcett made by famed pop-artist Andy Warhol in 1979.  UT reportedly hired a private investigator to track down the portrait.

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The Lead
8:46 am
Tue November 27, 2012

The Lead: Austin Dreams of a Subway, Legislature Gears Up

Good morning. After yesterday’s warm weather, Austin’s facing much chillier temperatures today with regional highs in the 60s. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on:

“The Waller Creek tunnel project downtown is digging up an old question: Why not a subway for Austin? That thought was on the top of Downtown Commissioner Jude Galligan’s mind after he saw the inside of the tunnel.

‘During the tour, I overheard discussions of people saying, why don’t we have subways in Austin?’ Galligan told me. ‘For a lot of us who have been following transportation, that’s a decade or two decade old discussion of why don’t we. Well, we don’t, because everybody believes it’s prohibitively expensive.’ But Galligan isn’t convinced by that argument. “

“By law, Texas lawmakers can’t increase state spending by more than the rate of increase of personal income. A couple of weeks ago the Legislative Budget Board set that rate at 10.7 percent, or about $7.5 billion more than the present budget. But immediately Republicans on the board, led by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, said they would use a different standard to cap state spending – which won’t account for the cuts made last legislative session.”

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The Lead
8:45 am
Mon November 26, 2012

The Lead: Black Friday May Leave You in the Red, F1 Has a Winner

Good Monday morning. Austin’s in for “unseasonably warm” weather today, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some stories that KUT News is working on, this so-called “Cyber Monday:”

“Some Central Texans have already been hard at work since Thanksgiving evening taking advantage of “Black Friday” holiday shopping deals.  And for many of them, that means whipping out the credit cards over, and over, and over again. …

Some promise zero percent interest or thousands of rewards points, but with a catch buried in the fine print. CardHub.com compares credit cards offers. It has compiled a list of what it calls the ‘scariest’ offers of 2012.”

“When you hear the words “Texas Railroad Commission” you’d be forgiven for thinking the elected body governs railroads in the state of Texas. In fact, the Commission is in charge of regulating the state’s oil and gas industry. …

Not surprisingly, a lot of Texans don’t understand why the State agency that regulates the oil and gas drilling is called the Railroad Commission.  The name change is something Railroad Commission Chair Barry Smitherman says he can get behind.”

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The Lead
8:49 am
Wed November 21, 2012

The Lead: Holiday Traffic Safety, County Line’s Obamacare Letter, Hostess Says Mediation Fails

Good morning. The National Weather Service says we’re in for more partly cloudy weather and slightly higher than normal temperatures today. And the same heading into Thanksgiving tomorrow. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on:

“Starting Wednesday, APD will launch its sixth annual holiday traffic initiative aimed at increasing pedestrian and traffic safety. The initiative runs through Jan. 1.

‘All members of the department from the chief on down to the youngest rookie, all detectives, all members of this department that wear a badge will work traffic enforcement,’ Police Chief Art Acevedo said.”

“Today is historically one of the busiest travel days of the year. KUT News has compiled a list of things you need to know before you hit the roads … or skies, for that matter.”

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Thanksgiving
3:35 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Free Thanksgiving Meals in Austin

Volunteers sort donations to the Capital Area Food Bank in 2011.
KUT News

No holiday is more closely associated with food than Thanksgiving. But many Central Texans will be thankful just to get enough to eat this holiday season.

Several free holiday meals are being offered this Thanksgiving holiday. 

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Downtown
2:48 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

How Downtown Austin Lost Two Parking Spaces - And Gained a 'Parklet'

Patrons utilize the new street patio installed on Congress Avenue.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

609 Congress Ave. has its two parking spots occupied – and you can circle the block all you want, but you won’t get a space there.

That’s because the two spots in front of the Royal Blue Grocery have been converted into a street patio. With the city’s blessing, Royal Blue has converted the spots as part of a pilot program testing the feasibility of future conversions.

The idea behind the street patio is to make the city more pedestrian-friendly and less auto-centric. “The two parking spaces at 609 Congress are estimated to have housed about five cars per day total,” reads a release from the office of Chris Riley, the Austin City Council’s resident urban design wonk. “If this ‘street patio’ performs as successfully as the ones in other cities have, that space will be opened up to hundreds of people to use each day.”

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Wildfires
2:47 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Report: Power Lines to Blame for Steiner Ranch Fire (Update)

Kate Stein's home in Steiner Ranch was destroyed by fire in 2011.
Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Update: KUT News has received a copy of the full Steiner Ranch report from the Travis County Fire Marshall's Office. You can read the report here

Original post (10:34 a.m.): The 2011 fire in Steiner Ranch was probably due to electrical lines, according to the Travis County Fire Marshal.

Fire Marshal Hershel Lee issued a statement on his office’s investigation into the Steiner Ranch fire, which destroyed nearly two dozen homes and damaged several more. “[The] fire was most likely started by electrical lines that came into contact with one another, arced and ignited grass,” reads the statement. The conclusion was made based on burn patterns, witness reports and more. The lines were owned by Austin Energy.

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Fracking
12:24 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Another Texas Earthquake in Fracking Hot Spot

A fracking rig in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. A small earthquake occurred in a North Texas area linked to fracking.
flickr.com/wcn247

A small quake rattled the Fort Worth area last night – the latest North Texas quake to occur in proximity to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” sites and their disposal wells.

Fracking is the practice of pumping hydraulic fracturing fluid into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits.  StateImpact Texas writes that “while it’s difficult to link any individual quake to a specific cause, North Texas has seen a significant uptick in seismic events since hydraulic fracturing technology opened up the area to widespread oil and gas drilling.”

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Police
12:01 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Travis County DA Seeks Death Penalty for Accused Cop Killer

Police officer Jaime Padron's memorial motorcade. Brandon Daniel is accused of killing Padron, and may be looking at the death penalty.
Austin Police Dept.; Motorcade photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Brandon Daniel may be facing the death penalty for allegedly killing of Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron.

The Austin American-Statesman quotes District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg as saying seeking the death penalty for Daniel “is the right thing to do.”

Daniel was charged with capital murder in April of this year for the killing of Officer Padron at an area Wal-Mart.

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The Lead
8:48 am
Tue November 20, 2012

The Lead: F1 Debrief, Road Safety and Pedestrian Deaths

Good morning. Austin can expect partly cloudy skies and a seasonably warm high in the 80s, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on:

“The Austin Chamber of Commerce is calling Austin’s first Formula 1 race a ‘smashing’ success.

While the chamber acknowledges that there will be some lessons learned and that some businesses didn’t get the crowds they’d hoped for, officials say it all went pretty smoothly.”

For many Austinites, Formula One meant road closures, traffic jams and roaring choppers. But for some local nonprofits, it also meant an uptick in donations.

The Boys and Girls Club of the Austin Area and Austin Partners in Education each walked away with $26,000 in donations from F1 weekend, thanks to an agreement between Circuit of the Americas andHotels for Hope, a local hotel broker that raises money for charities.”

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