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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Austin
11:56 am
Tue October 2, 2012

Austin's One of the Nation's Best Cities. (Okay, the Eighth Best. Wait, What?)

Austin is the only Texas city to rank among Bloomberg Businessweek's Top 10 American cities.
flickr.com/stuseeger

This may come as little surprise to readers of this news blog, but yet again, Austin has ranked in another  list.

This time, Austin has been listed as the eighth “best” American city by Bloomberg Businessweek, which places the Capital City three spots higher than Bloomberg had it last year.

How do the rankings decide which cities are best? Or what exactly “best” means? That’s easy, sort of: Bloomberg Businessweek cross-referenced data from Onboard Informatics and Trust for Public Land to construct a ranking system. The system, in turn, relies on the number of bars and restaurants, employment percentages, crime rates and educational markers.

Boom. There’s your solution for ranking America’s Best Cities.

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Transportation
9:02 am
Tue October 2, 2012

Overnight Crashes Leave Three Dead

Two pedestrians died crossing area highways, while another man died crashing a truck yesterday.
Nathan Bernier, KUT News

It was a dangerous night on Austin roads as three separate incidents lead to three deaths.

The lower deck of Interstate 35 was closed at the split this morning, due to a fatality in the 3200 block of the interstate.

KXAN spoke with Austin Police Sgt. Daniel Watson; he told the station a man was “running in the lanes” along the interstate, near St. David’s Hospital, and was killed after getting hit by a truck. The motorist stayed at the scene and cooperated with authorities.

In southeast Travis County, another pedestrian and auto collision occurred at Highway 71 East and FM 973. The incident closed all westbound lanes of Highway 71. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the pedestrian was also in the road, and the driver also remained on the scene.

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Austin
4:44 pm
Mon October 1, 2012

Deep Eddy Pool Closed Again for Repairs

Deep Eddy Pool before closing for renovations last April.
KUT News

Just months after reopening following major repairs to its deck, piping system and pool bottom that kept it closed for several months, Deep Eddy Pool is closing again. 

This afternoon, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department issued a statement that Deep Eddy has temporarily closed, due to a water line break. Teams are working to repair the break, and no word is available yet as to when the work will be complete and the pool will reopen.

The city is promoting Stacy Pool, at 601 East Live Oak St., as an alternative for area swimmers. 

Deep Eddy is the oldest swimming pool in the state.

Politics
4:06 pm
Mon October 1, 2012

Money, Marriage and a Mortgage: The Formula For More Voters

Then-candidate Barack Obama addresses an Austin crowd in 2008. While the 2008 election saw an increase in young voters, still roughly half of voters 29 and under turned out.
KUT News

Could you create a mathematical formula to increase voter turnout?

The idea may sound far-fetched. But Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has an idea on what it might look like.

“It has to do with how well each voter is connected to their local community,” DeBeauvoir tells KUT News. “For example: Do you own a house? That’s a point. Do you have children in school? That’s a point. All of those add up.  And it turns out that people that have the most points of connection with their community are the people who vote.”

DeBeauvoir notes those variables are “roughly all about how old you are. It takes a while to get connected.” And those factors may have a lot to do with why young Texans are sitting out elections.

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Austin
12:05 pm
Mon October 1, 2012

Yassine Brothers' Drug and Money Laundering Trial Begins

Jury selection in the trial of the Yassine brothers - Sixth Street club owners charged with money laundering and drug and firearm distribution - is underway.
flickr.com/kevharb

Jury selection begins today in the trial of three former downtown Austin nightclub operators.

The Yassine brothers – Hussein, Hadi and Mohammed Yassine – were among ten people arrested in March on drug, weapon and money laundering charges.  The Yassines, who operated several nightclubs including Spill, the pirate-themed bar Treasure Island, Kiss and Fly and more, have entered not guilty pleas.

The sensational nature of the charges – and the media attention they have attracted – are already a point of contention. The Austin American-Statesman, which notes that over 120 citizens were summoned to U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ courtroom to form the jury pool , writes:

Early questions focused on pre-trial publicity in the case, with Sparks asking prospective jurors if they’d been following coverage of the investigation, including a story that ran on the front page of today’s American-Statesman.

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Environment
11:15 am
Mon October 1, 2012

Weekend Dallas Earthquakes Occur in Fracking Hot Spot

A diagram illustrating the fracking process. Disposal of fracking fluid has been linked to earthquakes in the Dallas region.
sustainability.gov/

A series of small earthquakes in the Dallas region over the weekend are reviving discussion of the link between quakes and the oil and gas industry practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Fracking is the practice of pumping hydraulic fracturing fluid into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits. Just how fracking is linked to earthquakes is a hot topic around the country, Texas especially.

The Dallas Morning News reports two quakes rattled the Dallas region on Saturday, followed by another quake on Sunday. Both quakes were in the Barnett Shale, which is rich in natural gas.

StateImpact Texas writes that it’s not the actual act of fracking itself that leads to earthquakes, but rather the disposal of the fracking fluid remaining after the process, which is usually shot into disposal wells deep underground.

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The Lead
9:01 am
Mon October 1, 2012

The Lead: Austin’s Gay Marriage Stance, Perry and Tuition Costs, Vince Young

Good morning. We’re looking at a cool day for Austin as the cold front that accompanied this weekend’s rains sticks around, making for highs in the lower to mid-80s. Here’s a look at what KUT News has been up to this morning, along with some weekend stories you may have missed:

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Austin
8:33 am
Mon October 1, 2012

New Short-Term Rental Ordinance Takes Effect Today

Short-term rentals, as listed by companies like HomeWay, are subject to new regulation beginning today.
Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Starting today, Austin residents and property owners who rent out their homes to vacationers will be subject to new licensing requirements

The Austin City Council adopted an ordinance in August requiring anyone who operates a short-term rental.  As defined by the council, the rentals are “houses and residential units rented for periods of 30 days.” The ordinance goes into effect today.

Rental operators will face different applications and licensing requirements depending on whether they occupy the property themselves (a "Type 1" rental) or use it solely as a rental property ("Type 2"). Type 1 operators and/or Type 2 operators in business before June 13, 2011, can begin applying for licenses today. Type 2 operators opening shop after June 13 will be able to apply in January.

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development
2:49 pm
Fri September 28, 2012

Check Out Austin’s Evolving Central Library Design

The main entrance to the library features an outdoor cafe.
Lake | Flato + Shepley Bulfinch, City of Austin

Plans for the city’s new central library have been in the works since 2006, when voters approved bond spending for the facility. Library officials now say designs for the building are 60 percent complete – and next steps include bidding out construction contracts and breaking ground next year.

While Austin has previously seen schematic designs of the building, “it’s pretty much as the name of the phase implies – the scheme at that point,” says John Gillum, facilities process manager for the Austin Public Library. “You’re trying to figure out if you can put the building on the site that you have.”

In contrast, Gillum now says the entire design is now over halfway complete. “It’s pretty much a refinement and further development of what we saw in the schematic design. … We know what the finishes are going to be, what the landscaping is going to look like, where things are going to be located, 99 percent certain in the new building,” he says.

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The Lead
10:41 am
Fri September 28, 2012

The Lead: Flash Flood Watch, Bastrop Fire Aid, Austin Medical School

Central Texas is under a flash flood watch today, as heavy rains are expected to hit Travis and surrounding counties this afternoon. Here’s what KUT News has been working on this morning, along with some top stories.

Here's more stories from around the web:

  • Former Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley Makes Case for Prop. 1, Med School (Oak Hill Gazette)

“'With the growing population and the growing of these two segments, we can look down the road two or three years and see that we already have a doctor shortage of 700 doctors in this area,' Dunkerley said. 'So it is very critical that we do some strategy in order to get more physicians into this area to help all of us as we get older.'"

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City Council
9:01 am
Thu September 27, 2012

City Council Preview: Gay Marriage Equality, Incentives for HID Global, More SH 45 Drama

A full agenda for the Austin City Council today. It's their first meeting since approving the city budget earlier this month.
flickr.com/atmtx

The Austin City Council meets today. Among the items it’s expected to approve: a resolution supporting marriage equality for gay couples, the first such measure from a Texas city.

The city’s draft resolution reads in part:

WHEREAS, all couples in loving and committed relationships should be given the opportunity to create stronger and more successful families through civil marriage; and 

WHEREAS, it is the intent of civil rights organizations in the State of Texas including Equality Texas, the Human Rights Campaign, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (etc…) to end discrimination in marriage based on gender and sexual orientation in Texas, to ensure that all persons in this state may enjoy the freedom to marry on equal terms;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF AUSTIN:

That we support marriage equality in the State of Texas.

The resolution is expected to pass unanimously; Mayor Lee Leffingwell previously joined dozens of other U.S. mayors in calling for marriage equality.

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Development
3:52 pm
Wed September 26, 2012

Waller Creek Tunnel Excavation Over Halfway Complete

Progress inside the Waller Creek tunnel this May. Over half of the tunnel has been excavated to date.
Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

It was a full house this morning for an Urban Land Institute breakfast on Waller Creek.

The design competition for the above ground portion of Waller Creek – including an inlet at Waterloo Park, an outlet at Lady Bird Lake, and the creek itself – is nearly at an end. But below ground, there’s still plenty to do.

Joe Pantalion, Deputy Director of the Watershed Protection Department says the Waller Creek tunnel is 60 percent excavated. Once completed, it will keep the water in Waller Creek at a steady flow, and pull 28 acres out of the floodplain.

"It’s actually right on schedule," Pantalion says. "They’ve excavated 2,000 feet north of Fourth Street," the construction site that serves as entrance to the tunnel. "The tunnel’s right under Ninth Street right now. And heading south, the tunnel’s gone about 1,200 feet, which would put it right under the Cesar Chavez bridge [over Waller Creek, between the Austin Convention Center and Iron Works BBQ]." 

While the tunnel is nearing completion, Pantalion says most of next year will be spent reinforcing the structure by lining it with concrete. “We hope to have the tunnel, all the pieces connected – the inlet, the tunnel, the outlet – all by the end of 2014,” he says. 

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Public Safety
12:04 pm
Wed September 26, 2012

Weekend Death 11th Fatal Hit-and-Run This Year

Sunday morning's fatal traffic accident, the 53rd of the year, occurred on the Congress Avenue Bridge.
flickr.com/rutlo

The hit-and-run death of a bicyclist on an Austin road this weekend was the 11th fatal incidence of a failure to stop and render aid this year, according to Austin Police.

The incident occurred early Sunday morning. Cyclist Robert Anthony Ramirez was on the Congress Avenue Bridge when police say he was struck by motorist Brian Adam Mahy:

On Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 4:34 a.m., Austin Police responded to an auto/bicyclist crash at 100 South Congress Avenue. The bicyclist was operating a bicycle southbound in the far right lane of the Congress Bridge. According to witnesses, a black Ford Mustang was operating at a high rate of speed in the center lane of southbound Congress Avenue. The Mustang then passed another vehicle to the right, placing him in the same lane as the bicyclist. The Mustang crashed into the bicyclist, then left the scene and did not stop to render aid to the bicyclist.

Ramirez was pronounced deceased at the scene. Mahy turned himself into police afterward, and was charged with second-degree felony intoxication manslaughter and third-degree felony failure to stop and render aid.

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Criminal Justice
11:32 am
Wed September 26, 2012

Texas Executes Cleve Foster, Ninth Inmate to Die This Year

Former Army recruiter Cleve Foster was executed for the 2002 slaying of a Fort Worth woman last night.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice

The State of Texas executed Cleve Foster last night. He was put to death for the sexual assault and shooting death of Nyaneur Pal (“Pah”) in Fort Worth in 2002.

His attorneys say he was innocent and didn’t have proper legal defense early on. Foster’s co-defendant, Shelton Ward, died of cancer on death row in 2010.

The Austin Chronicle writes Foster was charged under Texas’ “law of parties,” which stipulates those involved in the commission of a murder can be charged with the crime, even if they didn’t directly participate in the act of murder. Foster claimed he was incapacitated at the time of Pal’s death:

In several statements Ward repeatedly claimed that he alone murdered Pal, but prosecutors have said Ward's statements are inconsistent with the evidence. DNA evidence showed both men had sex with her before her death, but Foster insists he was passed out from sleeping pills and wasn't involved in Pal's killing.

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Why Bother?
1:20 pm
Tue September 25, 2012

With So Many Registered Voters, Why is Austin Turnout So Low?

The voter registration drive at the Travis County offices today. While county voter registration is high, turnout is another matter.
facebook.com/TravisCountyTaxOffice

Today is National Voter Registration Day, a push to get voters on the rolls before registration ends. (In Texas, that’s Oct. 9.)

According to a statement from the Travis County’s voter registrar, the county “enjoys the highest voter registration rate (78%) among urban counties in Texas.” That’s some 607,000 county residents. As part of National Voter Registration Day, officials want to swell that number to 650,000.

But will more registered voters actually lead to more votes and more engagement?

“There are about 460,000 registered voters here inside the city of Austin,” local political consultant Mark Littlefield tells KUT News. “We have about 79,000 likely voters in a City Council election. If it is a municipal election where there is no hot mayor’s race, you are looking at turnout of 30,000, about eight percent.”

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Austin
9:14 am
Tue September 25, 2012

The Lead: Travis County Tax Increase, Austin’s Hipster Bonafides

Good morning. This morning’s scattered fog is expected to burn off quickly, leaving another sunny, slightly warmer than average day, according to the National Weather Service.

Here’s what KUT News has been working on this morning:

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Public Safety
5:08 pm
Mon September 24, 2012

Listen to the Public Safety Message That Freaked Out Some Austinites

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

A recent reverse 911 call that went out to Austin-area residents worked, according to police. But judging from a statement the authorities released regarding the message, it may have frayed some nerves in the process.

Over the weekend, the Austin Police Department utilized the Emergency Notification System (ENS) to develop leads related to a missing persons case. Functioning like a reverse 911 call, the ENS system is utilized by several Central Texas counties to relay information over the phone in case of emergency.

“The activation worked as intended. We received at least two calls from citizens who listened to the ENS announcement,” Austin Police write in a statement relased this afternoon. “They provided helpful information to help locate the missing elderly woman.”

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2012 Presidential Election
2:15 pm
Mon September 24, 2012

Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson at UT Tonight

Former governor and Presidential candidate Gary Johnson makes the Libertarian case on the 40 Acres.
garyjohnson2012.com

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is coming to the University of Texas tonight.

Johnson, who served as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, initially vied for the Republican presidential nomination this election cycle. By late 2011, Johnson dropped out the crowded Republican field and announced plans to run as the Libertarian nominee, with California judge Jim Gray as his vice-presidential running mate.

U.S. News and World Report writes today that Johnson has sued to gain entry into the nationally televised debates between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Those debates kick off on Oct. 3.

Johnson will be speaking at an event at Hogg Auditorium this evening, from 5 to 7 p.m., sponsored by the Libertarian Longhorns

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Politics
12:32 pm
Mon September 24, 2012

Report: 10 Million Latinos Impacted By Voter ID Laws, Other Measures

Over 3 million Texas Latino votes were left on the table in 2010, according to a report from the Advancement Project.
clockwise from left: Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News, flickr.com/sarowen, KUT News

A new report says the combined impact of voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements, and inaccurate purges of voter registration rolls could prevent over 10 million Latino Americans from registering and voting in elections this year.

The report is authored by the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization that opposes measures like voter ID. It argues that “voter suppression laws and policies threaten to relegate eligible Latino voters to second-class citizenship and impede their ability to participate fully in American democracy.”

Texas laws and actions are targeted by The Advancement Project, including the state’s voter ID law (which was overturned by a U.S. district court, and is unlikely to be implemented this November). The report also lists Texas as among 14 states that have requested U.S. Department of Homeland Security data “for the purpose of conducting state voter purges based on citizenship.”

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Texas
10:57 am
Mon September 24, 2012

New Training Leader, Another Court Martial at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Base

Col. Deborah Liddick was recently named to head Lackland Air Force Base's 737th Training Group.
U.S. Air Force

Another instructor at San Antonio’s embattled Lackland Air Force Base goes to trial today, as the new head of base training takes command.

The Associated Press reports the court martial of Staff Sgt. Jason Manko begins today. The AP writes Manko “is accused of sexual misconduct and trying to start a relationship with a recruit at the Air Force's headquarters for basic training.”

Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, some 90 miles southwest of Austin, oversees basic training for all new Air Force recruits. The base has been rocked by a string of trials involving sex and sexual assault between instructors and new recruits – scandals that have lead to several changes in command personnel.

On Friday, the San Antonio Express-News profiled the new leader of Lackland’s 737th Training Group: Col. Deborah Liddick.

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