Wells Dunbar

Senior Online Editor

As  online editor for KUT News, Wells Dunbar covers news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond. Before joining KUT, 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, child and cat.

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City Council
10:05 am
Thu October 11, 2012

City Council Preview: Rainey St. Standoff, Urban Rail Funding, F1 Annexation

Plans to sell land next to the Mexican American Cultural Center appear to have been taken off the table.
flickr.com/mirsasha

The Austin City Council is tackling a full agenda today. While no one item looks to have the potential to grind the meeting to a halt, a clutch of smaller controversies have the potential to make this meeting a long one. Here’s what’s on the agenda:

The proposed sale of a plot of land on Rainey Street, next to the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), has likely been taken off the table.

As KUT News reported earlier this week, a private group of investors had offered to buy the parcel and build a parking structure; today, the council was set to consider offers for the land.

The MACC’s board of directors protested that it was never consulted about those plans, which it said would impact the MACC’s view and future plans for the area. 

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The Lead
8:28 am
Thu October 11, 2012

The Lead: Texas Inmate Executed, Hasan Back in Court, Police and Occupy Austin

Good morning. Austin’s expecting partly cloudy, warm and humid weather today, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some of KUT News’ top stories from the last 24 hours.

Here’s some other state and local stories that have people talking:

Fort Hood Suspect's Nidal Hasan‘s Beard Case at Appeals Court Today (AP)

The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals at Fort Belvoir in Virginia will hear oral arguments. The court also will hear from government attorneys who have said forcibly shaving Hasan would not violate his religious rights, and that the judge has the authority to enforce the Army rule prohibiting beards.

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The Lead
8:54 am
Wed October 10, 2012

The Lead: UT's Affirmative Action Policies Before Supreme Court

Good morning. This misty weather is expected to clear some, with highs warming into the mid-80s according to the Weather Channel. Here’s some of  KUT News’ top stories from this morning and yesterday evening:

The University of Texas is making the case for its affirmative action program before the Supreme Court today. Here’s a round-up of links on what’s at stake, and what to expect.

Supreme Court Set to Hear Oral Arguments on UT's Admissions Policy (Texas Tribune)

Abigail Fisher, a white student who graduated outside the top 10 percent of her high school class, was denied admission to UT-Austin in 2008. Claiming that students with lower test scores and less extracurricular involvement were admitted to UT-Austin over her because of their race, Fisher sued the university.

Now the justices will consider Fisher’s argument that UT-Austin’s admissions policy violates the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and federal civil rights statutes because it considers race when admitting the students who are not automatically admitted in accordance with state law. The court’s decision is expected to come early next year.

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Bond Election
2:12 pm
Tue October 9, 2012

Prop 13: Watershed Protection and Open Space

The city says Prop 13 protects water quality by funding land purchases in the Barton Springs Watershed contributing and recharge zones.
KUT News

This November, Austin voters will be asked to decide on 18 propositions, including seven bond propositions totaling $385 million. KUT News is examining all seven of the spending propositions; today we take a look at Prop 13, which would spend $30 million purchasing land and conservation easements for open space and water quality protection. 

According to the city, the bond would help preserve Austin's water quality by funding land buys in the Barton Springs Watershed, where water filters into the Edwards Aquifer.

“It’s preserving the lands, keeping it from urbanization, which inevitably leads to some degradation of water quality,” says Michael Personett,  assistant director for the city’s Watershed Protection program.

The bond would also add to the city's undeveloped space by funding the purchase of land conservation easements in environmentally sensitive areas. Easements are essentially agreements between the city and landowners that keep land in the hands of its original owner while preventing outside development. The owner gets some extra cash, and the city gets assurances water quality won't deteriorate in that area.

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Health
1:15 pm
Tue October 9, 2012

San Antonio's New Vending Machines May Scold Your Soda Choice

Going for a full calorie cola? New vending machines will encourage you to “Check Then Choose,” or “Try a Low-Calorie Beverage.”
flickr.com/omarriva

Starting in 2013, San Antonio will be one two cities debuting new vending machines aimed at providing healthier beverages to consumers.

According to the American Beverage Association, San Antonio and Chicago will feature the first line of soda vending machines labeled with a prominently labeled calorie count, along with flashing messages asking consumers to think before they drink.

The program is an attempt by the association to get ahead of  upcoming government regulations in the Affordable Care Act requiring calorie counts to become more visible. The idea is to make Americans pay closer attention to the calorie counts in what they consume, thereby improving heath (and lowering health care costs over time). The program comes after hamburger giant McDonald's began posting calorie counts on its menus. 

New machines will also feature electronic displays reminding customers that “Calories Count.” The displays will also stream slogans like “Check then Choose,” and “Try a Low-Calorie Beverage.”

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Austin
11:55 am
Tue October 9, 2012

Photos: Austin Welcomes the Signs of Fall

J.D. Patton and his family search for the perfect pumpkin at Tarrytown United Methodist Church. The patch has supplied Austinites with pumpkins since 1946.
Jillian Schantz Patrick for KUT News

With blistering summer temperatures stretching all the way into September, Austin doesn’t need much prompting  to embrace cooler temperatures. This weekend’s cold front was proof of that, having marked the start of sweater weather for many Austinites.

Photojournalist Jillian Schantz Patrick took these pictures for KUT News over the weekend, documenting Austin’s reaction to the changing season.

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The Lead
8:48 am
Tue October 9, 2012

The Lead: Voter Registration Ending, Austin Tech Co. Reaps Funding, Fusion Centers Criticized

Good morning. The cooler weather we’ve been enjoying will gradually warm this afternoon to a high near 80, the National Weather Service says – great weather on this last day of voter registration. Here’s some of KUT’s overnight stories.

Here’s some more Texas stories from around the web:

Austin-based Calxeda Pulls In $55M to ‘Slash Data Center Power’ (Venture Beat)

Calxeda, the Austin, TX-based company with the first ever chip capable of running an entire server at a mere 5 watts, just announced a $55 million fundraise.

“Businesses require a more efficient solution for the Web, Cloud, and Big Data,” Barry Evans, the company’s CEO explained in a statement.

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Bond Election
1:06 pm
Mon October 8, 2012

Prop 12: Transportation and Mobility

A typical rush hour on MoPac. According to the city, Prop 12 would fund the “improvement, construction and design” of sidewalks, bridges and roads to help ease traffic.
Jillian Schantz Patrick for KUT News

This election, Austin voters will be asked to decide on 18 propositions, including seven bond propositions totaling $385 million. KUT News is taking an in-depth look at all seven of the bond propositions, starting with the largest spending package: Prop 12, funding transportation and mobility projects.

According to the city, the $143.3 million proposal would fund the “improvement, construction and design” of sidewalks, bridges and roads to help ease traffic and congestion. That will likely include updates to Interstate 35, MoPac and North Lamar Boulevard.

The bond would also fund new traffic signals and pedestrian beacons backers says will improve safety, and help pay for a portion of the Violet Crown Trail, a 30-mile hiking and biking path from Zilker Park to Hays County. A full list of potential transportation projects can be found on the city’s website.

Love Austin is a campaign by bond supporters that hopes to educate voters about the city’s overall bond package. At a kick-off party at Nuevo Leon in East Austin, field director Ian Davis said he’s excited about the new trail. “You know I grew up hiking and biking in the greenbelt and now ... I have a young son and I’m just looking forward to taking him on this very new trail," Davis said.  "I think it’s going to be an environmental treasure."

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Formula 1
12:18 pm
Mon October 8, 2012

Circuit of the Americas' Seven F1 Transportation Tips

Brace yourself, F1 fans: This shot of the track at COTA may be the last empty roadway you see for a while.
circuitoftheamericas.com

Ready for the insane crush of traffic expected during Austin's inaugural Formula One event in November? The airport says it is. Cap Metro does too. But what about racing fans? In case they need help, the hosts of the Grand Prix unveiled some general guidance this morning, which you may or may not find to be the most obvious advice imaginable. 

F1 track owners Circuit of the Americas issued a statement today detailing a “comprehensive plan” to expedite  traffic to the track. The COTA team’s general guidelines include:

  • Carpooling to the COTA site
  • Budgeting enough time. “Attendees should expect to add at least one hour to their travel time to get to their shuttle Park + Ride location and at least 90 minutes to get from their lodgings to the Circuit with an on-site parking pass.”
  • Not bringing stuff you’re not supposed to (Booze, animals, "illegal substances")
  • Using the directions you’re given with your ticket. “Please follow printing directions rather than GPS-identified routes.”
  • Expecting traffic and its delays
  • Planning to spend all day at the Circuit
  • Dressing appropriately, presumably so you won’t need to leave the premises.
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The Lead
9:02 am
Mon October 8, 2012

The Lead: Doctors and Texas Politics, MoPac Toll Lanes, Sex Offender Registry

Good Monday morning. This weekend’s cold front made for a chilly morning; the National Weather Service says to expect a high near 70 for the Austin region. Here’s KUT’s top morning stories.

Here’s some more Austin and Texas stories from the web:

Texas officials say the national registry is too costly, and it's willing to risk losing about $1.4 million in grant money that would help local agencies enforce the law.

State lawmakers say the grant money is far less than the estimated $38  million it would cost to modify the state's registry program.

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Bond Election
3:06 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

Leffingwell, Statesman, PolitiFact, Chronicle Butt Heads on Bond Spending

Mayor Lee Leffingwell launched the latest volley in a battle over the financial impact of this November's bond election.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Absent major opposition to the seven proposed Austin bond initiatives up for a vote next month, supporters of their package have focused their ire on the closest thing: the editorial board of the Austin-American Statesman.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell chairs a group in favor of the $385 million package, which would fund projects including transportation, open space acquisition, parks, housing, public safety, health and human services, and cultural facilities. Today, the Statesman published an op-ed Leffingwell wrote upbraiding the paper for an editorial he said “lacks context” and “inaccurately and unfairly” characterizes the issue.

Earlier this month, the Statesman published an editorial (“Be straight with voters on $385 million bond package”) that said if the bonds don’t pass, the property tax rate could decline two cents over time. (That’s because the portion of the tax rate that would pay for the new bond spending is the portion that is currently paying off existing bond projects; when those projects are completed, theoretically, the debt could be retired.)

But the Statesman took the additional step of saying city leaders weren’t being truthful when they said the package wouldn’t raise property taxes:

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SXSW
12:07 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

SXSW Eco Powers Through a Second Year

Advances in renewable energy were a hot topic at this year's SXSW Eco conference.
flickr.com/lancecheungmedia

The second-annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco conference comes to an end today.

SXSW Eco is an offshoot of the wildly-popular SXSW festival that takes over Austin for a good chunk of March each year, and has since grown from its roots in music and film to encompass technology and education.

SXSW Eco is still a comparatively smaller affair, viewed against the whopping $190 million in estimated economic impact SXSW brings overall. But this year’s festival expanded its focus onto five themes: Scalable, ecological solutions; collaborations between disparate communities on global issues like climate change; advances in technology and design; green economics; and visions for an environmentally sustainable future.

The team with KUT News’ StateImpact Texas has been filing dispatches from Eco, starting with an interview with Michael E. Mann, a Penn State University professor whose work includes the iconic “hockey stick” graph showing a rise in global temperatures since the dawn of the industrial age – work that his made him a target of climate change deniers.

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The Lead
8:55 am
Fri October 5, 2012

The Lead: Occupy Austin’s Tent City, SXSW Impact, Austin's November Elections

Good morning and a happy Friday. A cold front should blow in around midnight, meaning weekend lows plummeting into the 40s. Here’s some recent stories from KUT News.  

Here’s some more Austin and Texas stories folks are talking about:

  • As Voters Weigh Austin District Plans, a Question Lingers: Who Should Draw the Boundaries? (Statesman)

One of the two plans voters will consider Nov. 6 — switching the council from seven citywide members to 10 district representatives and a citywide mayor — calls for a commission of citizens with no paid ties to city politics to draw the district lines. Critics say that approach, added to the ballot by a citizens’ petition effort, has several possible pitfalls, including strict criteria that could disqualify too many people from serving.

The other plan — eight district representatives and three citywide seats, including a mayor — doesn’t say who would draw the lines, but the City Council would likely be involved. Detractors worry that would lead to the council manipulating the lines for political gain.

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Austin
5:19 pm
Thu October 4, 2012

Are Minority Students Being Targeted in UT-Austin’s West Campus?

Students marched to the MLK statue on campus to protest bleach balloon attacks in the West Campus.
KUT News

Racial issues are one again simmering the University of Texas at Austin.

Students marched on the UT campus earlier this week to protest what some are calling racially motivated attacks, where balloons allegedly filled with bleach were dropped from apartment balconies in the West Campus area near UT.

While the perpetrator or perpetrators of the attacks is unknown, and therefore their intentions are unclear, KVUE reports Austin police “have spoken to victims who were involved in four separate and similar incidents involving liquid-filled balloons dropped on people of color.” And the incidents have once again created a focus on racial climate for African-American students on campus.

“I won’t say that it’s easier being on campus, because people still look at you like you don’t belong here,” says Reva Davis, vice president of the Black Student Alliance. “And you can walk into a classroom and you’ll still feel uncomfortable — whether you’re a freshman or senior — being a person of color. It doesn’t get easier, you just find ways to deal with and cope with it.”

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Why Bother?
1:57 pm
Thu October 4, 2012

Getting Millennials to Bother Voting

A voter registration table at Tuesday night's "Why Bother?" taping.
flickr.com/utcomm

With barely half of eligible 18 to 29 year-olds voting in 2008, it seems many young citizens look at the political process and ask, “Why bother?”

KUT News has begun a reporting and outreach series this topic. It's part of a broader initiative, "Why Bother? Engaging Texans In Democracy Today," in partnership with the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and KLRU-TV, Austin PBS.

Our first forum, “Why Bother? Voices of a New Generation,” is airing tonight on on KUT 90.5 and on KLRU, both at 8 p.m. 

The series and our taping on Tuesday has already inspired some conversation.

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The Lead
9:42 am
Thu October 4, 2012

The Lead: Presidential Debate Recap, Texas Senate Shakeup, Central Texas BBQ Wins Another Convert

Good morning. Austin’s cloudy morning will give way to sunny weather today, with a high in the low 90s according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some top stories from KUT News and debate coverage from our partners at NPR.

Here’s some more stories from around the city and state:

Dewhurst Plans Committee Shakeup on Education (San Antonio Express-News)

AUSTIN — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is poised to announce Senate leadership changes today that could have a profound effect on Texas education policy — including giving fuel to a push for school choice.

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2012 Presidential Election
7:51 pm
Wed October 3, 2012

Chat Live During Tonight's Presidential Debate

NPR will be hosting a live chat for tonight's presidential debate in Denver. Join in the conversation below. 

Waller Creek
4:01 pm
Wed October 3, 2012

Waller Creek Teams Design the Future of Downtown Austin

Designs from the four teams vying to remake Waller Creek.
wallercreek.org

Update: The final four design teams in the Waller Creek design competition  presented their plans to a packed house in City Hall today. Our live-blog is over; read below for details and images from the presentation.

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Voting
3:59 pm
Tue October 2, 2012

How to Register and Where to Vote in Austin

Third-party voting apps like Rock the Vote feature more streamlined information on voting and voter registration.
rockthevote.com

KUT News has received a lot of feedback on “Why Bother,” our series on voter engagement. Suggestions that include ideas for making voting and voter registration easier, personal recollections and more. We expect to hear more tonight, at a taping of “Why Bother? Voices of a New Generation,” in KLRU’s Studio 6a.

But one criticism KUT News has received involves the existing process potential voters need to take to vote – and whether local news organizations, including KUT, have done enough to make that process understandable.

A blog post by a local web designer, A. Lista, questions why KUT is probing voter disengagement when the actual process to voting is itself convoluted. The blog shows step by step what happens when one searches “how to vote austin tx” on Google. Seven screens later, the author says she is “exhausted, frustrated, and pretty annoyed with all the extremely unhelpful government websites:”

Both the local news and KUT have suggested many times that voters are apathetic and unengaged, but like the government, neither has aired simple instruction on how to actually go about voting. How do you know you’re registered? Where do you go to vote? These things are confusing.

Registering to vote in Texas isn’t that easy: one suggestion we’ve heard is that online registration would make things a lot easier. But Texas law requires voter registration cards to be sent in by mail or hand delivered in-person.

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