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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The Lead
8:48 am
Mon November 5, 2012

The Lead: Election Day’s Almost Here (And Formula 1’s Up Next)

Good morning. This weekend’s week cold front will lead to highs in the lower 80s, along with a chance for some isolated thunderstorms in the region, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s a look at some stories KUT News has been working on.

"Now let’s get into the big change for this presidential election. You probably know that during early voting you can stop anywhere with a 'Vote Here' sign – usually at a grocery store or other high-traffic public location.

Travis County has decided to adopt that strategy on Election Day. 'You can vote at any one of the polling places that are designated' within Travis County, said County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir."

Voters should also know the state’s contested Photo ID requirement is not in effect this election –  a voter registration card, copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document showing your name and address are all acceptable forms of ID.

"If Prop 4, the 8-2-1 plan, were to pass, the City Council would presumably be drawing Austin’s new districts. But Prop 3, the 10-1 plan, provides for a redistricting commission. The commission would have 14 members; three auditors would randomly select eight people from a pool of candidates, and those eight would then pick the remaining six, ensuring that they are diverse in race, ethnicity, geography and gender.

Some redistricting commissions in the country have been accused of drawing maps for political gain or with cronyism in mind. Others, like those in San Diego and Minneapolis, have been commended for keeping politics away from the process."

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Fun Fun Fun Fest
12:05 pm
Sun November 4, 2012

Fun Fun Fun Fest Grows While Staying True to its Roots

Mash up maestro Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, playing Saturday night at Fun Fun Fun Fest
Mary Kang for KUT

Fun Fun Fun Fest describes itself as “the darling of independent festivals for music lovers and music makers.” But this year, with headliners like Run DMC and Girl Talk, is Fun Fun Fun Fest outgrowing its underground roots?

“It’ll never become super popular,” says James Moody, co-creator of the festival and owner of music venue The Mohawk. “It’s growing, but it’ll never do well as a very big festival.” That’s because Moody says they aren’t interested in billing big names.

Moody says they try to give attention to bands that aren’t as widely known, or inspire a small but devoted following. “We try to keep people on their toes and remind people that there are no genres anymore, so we don’t try to pigeon hole with our headlines,” Moody says. “We could throw a curveball and get The Cure next year or something.”

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Street Closures
4:22 pm
Fri November 2, 2012

Map: Komen 5K, More Events Mean Street Closures


View Street Closures for Nov. 2-4 in a larger map

A slew of events this weekend will make navigating downtown Austin a bit more challenging than usual.

The seventh annual Fun Fun Fun Fest is already underway at Auditorium Shores. Bouldin Avenue and South Fifth Street/Dawson Road are open to residents only. No festival parking is allowed in Bouldin Creek neighborhood.

Many more street closures are in effect Sunday, when the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K launches. East 18th Street from Congress Avenue to San Jacinto Boulevard and Brazos Street from MLK Jr. Boulevard to East 17th Street are first to close, at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3.

Several more full and partial closures are in effect Sunday, as illustrated in the map above. Here’s a rundown of the partial closures:

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The Lead
8:32 am
Fri November 2, 2012

The Lead: Early Voting Ending, Election Monitor Controversy

Good morning. The National Weather Service says we’re in for warm and muggy weather this weekend with highs in the 80s, until a weak cold front blows in on Sunday. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on.

The county’s Highland Mall early voting location will stay open until 9 p.m. to accommodate more of those who wish to participate.

In 2011 lawmakers passed a law requiring the secretary of state to cross-check federal Social Security rolls when performing its regular deceased-voter checks. This check created several thousand “soft matches” — names on the federal document of people who’d died that were similar to names on Texas voting rolls.

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City Council
10:00 am
Thu November 1, 2012

City Council Preview: Cab Permits, Cheer Up Charlies and the Future of East Riverside

The City Hall "stinger" points toward a workmanlike council meeting today.
flickr.com/diorama_sky

The Austin City Council convenes to a relatively small agenda today: a total of 63 items, counting the agenda addendum.

If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu, it’s no Halloween hangover: this meeting’s high profile items cover some well-tread ground. Let’s take a look.

More Taxi Trouble: Items 27 and 28 comprise the third and final reading of additional taxi permits for Lone Star Cab (20 permits) and Austin Cab (10 permits). As KUT News previously reported, the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin is opposing the new permits. They cite a city report stating the since a first round of additional permits were issued this spring, cab drivers are taking home less pay. Still, with Formula 1 on the horizon, the council feels some pressure to increase the number of cabs on Austin roads. It’s that rock-and-a-hard-place situation – balancing cab drivers’ and customer needs – that’s let the permit approval languish, the Austin Chronicle writes in its council preview.

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Austin
1:05 pm
Fri October 26, 2012

What Draws People to Austin: Readers Respond

An illustration of the most common words left by commenters on KUT News' blog post, "What Draws People to Austin (And What Drives Them Away)."

Reaction to KUT News’ post about what draws new residents to Austin has been great. While the 26 comments readers left on the blog are shy of the 85 now in the original Reddit thread that inspired the post, they’re no less illustrative or provocative in their assesment of the changing face of Austin. (And that doesn't even count the 58 comments left on the Facebook thread NPR started.)

Let’s start with the highest-rated comment, a joke from Jessica Ellison:

My favorite Austin joke: How many Austinites does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but 25 to talk about how great the old light bulb was.

Commenters seem divided on what change means for Austin. Commenter tee vee dee writes:

Austin is certainly suffering the "Best City" curse. Mass waves of people all trying to escape the dregs of their life, yet unwilling to let it go completely and fully embrace what's here. They're drawn to the vibe without ever really experiencing it or adding to it before giving it a white wash of familiar chain stores and restaurants. I'm all for inner city development, but much of the growth of the past few years has been decidedly un-weird.

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Transportation
1:01 pm
Thu October 25, 2012

Will 'Left Lane for Passing Only' Signs Make a Difference?

Is there any hope for Mopac? A TXDoT initiative is reminding motorists the left lane is for passing only, but the signs are mainly going up on faster highways.
Jillian Schantz Patrick for KUT News

Here’s a mantra you may repeat to yourself in Austin traffic (likely in-between bouts of profanity): The left lane is for passing only.

Despite the fact that passing on the left is the safest practice (and the fact that Texas has prohibitions against passing on the right), it’s a practice that’s routinely disregarded – just ask any Central Texas motorist.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) is trying to do something about that, by installing a little reminder on Texas highways: some 3,400 signs stating “Left Lane for Passing Only.”

Before you get your hopes up, here’s the rub – they’re only going up on highways with speed limits over 75 mph. That excludes Mopac and Interstate 35 as they cut through most of Central Austin.

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Police
1:29 pm
Tue October 23, 2012

No Charges for Driver Shot at by Police While Fleeing Sixth Street

A screen shot from an amateur video capturing the aftermath of the incident on Sixth Street.
YouTube

Austin police say no charges will be filed against a driver who police fired on on Sixth Street over the weekend.

As KUT News previously reported, shortly after 2 a.m. early Sunday morning an Austin police officer opened fire on a car that the officer said was driving straight at him after hitting two bystanders.

YNN Austin quoted police chief Art Acevedo’s description of the scene: "This person, for unknown reasons, decided to rapidly accelerate to the extent that she left acceleration skid mark on the pavement … And not only drove toward civilian victims – and struck civilian victims – but also drove toward the officer and refused to stop until shots rang out."

But this afternoon, police announced no charges would be filed against the unnamed motorist, whom they described as fleeing the scene quickly out of concern for her safety.

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Charter Election
12:44 pm
Tue October 23, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About Prop 3 and Prop 4

A detail of an Austin neighborhood map. Voters are facing competing plans to bring geographic representation to the Austin City Council this election.
Wells Dunbar, KUT News

While Austin voters will face 18 city propositions this election, two dueling propositions are getting the most attention: Prop 3 and Prop 4. Both propositions would fundamentally alter Austin’s form of city council representation and elections. Here’s a closer look at Prop 3 and Prop 4, which would bring different forms of geographic representation to the Austin City Council.

What is Prop 3?

Here’s the yes/no question voters will be asked to decide upon:

Shall the city charter be amended to provide for the election of council members from 10 geographical single-member districts, with the mayor to be elected from the city at large, and to provide for an independent citizens redistricting commission?

Currently, all seven members of the Austin City Council (including the mayor) are elected at-large, meaning they represent the entire city and not just specific geographic parts of it. Prop 3 would change this by dividing the city into 10 separate geographic districts, which council members would represent. (Only the mayor would continue to run citywide.) A citizens commission would be tasked with drawing the district lines and have the final say on those boundaries. Prop 3 was put on the ballot by a citizen petition drive.

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The Lead
8:29 am
Tue October 23, 2012

The Lead: AISD Super’s Contract Extended, F1 Street Closures Slashed, More Election News

Good morning. Austin’s in for another warm, breezy and partly cloudy afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on:

The Austin school board voted 7-2 to extend an employment contract with Dr. Meria Carstarphen, the superintendent who oversees the education of more than 86,000 Austin children in the largest school district in Central Texas. 

The city of Miami claims to have taken almost half of its homeless population off the streets in the last 10 years. In Austin, where homeless services are stretched to the limit, the City Council is looking for new solutions. Last night, council members met with officials from Miami. The challenges of one local homeless family that is struggling on the streets show how complex the problem can be.

Proposition 5 would amend the city charter to allow council members to directly hire their own staff instead of having the city manager make those appointments. … Prop 6 would allow the City Council, instead of the city manager, to hire the city attorney, which is already standard practice in many large cities.

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The Lead
8:48 am
Mon October 22, 2012

The Lead: Early Voting Begins, Violent Night on Sixth Street, Austin’s F1 Track Opens

Good morning. It’s a muggy start to the week; the National Weather Service says Austin is in store for a partly cloudy, warm and breezy day, with a high in the mid-80s. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on this morning:

And here’s some more Austin and Texas stories from around the web:

Officer Fires on Car in Weekend Sixth Street Incident  

Shortly after 2 a.m. early Sunday morning on Sixth Street, an Austin police officer opened fire on a car that the officer said was driving straight at them, after hitting two bystanders.

The Statesman reports that the driver of the car, an unidentified woman, was uninjured; the two alleged victims of the driver were reported to have non-life threatening injuries. 

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Texas
3:52 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

Photos: State Fair Mascot 'Big Tex' Catches Fire (Updated)

State Fair of Texas mascot Big Tex went up in flames today. The 2012 State Fair was Big Tex's 60th anniversary.
flickr.com/photos/chr

Word broke this morning in Dallas that “Big Tex” – the iconic, 52-foot cowboy that greets visitors to the State Fair of Texas – caught fire and burned this morning.

It’s a bizarre end to the State Fair, which closes this Sunday. Big Tex celebrated his 60th birthday this year.

WFAA quotes Mitchell Glieber, the vice president of marketing for the State Fair, as saying it appears to have been an electrical fire. 

"There's obviously some electronics inside of Big Tex that leads to the ability for his mouth to move when he speaks," Glieber said. "I believe there was an electrical short, but that hasn't been confirmed or investigated."

You can follow Twitter hashtag #BigTexFire for more details. 

Update: YouTube member TexasStormChasers was rolling tape on fire dispatch radio when the Big Tex call came in. "There's a tall cowboy with all his clothes burnt off," says one responder. "Howdy folks – it’s hot,” says another.

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Health
12:53 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

Rabid Skunks Reported in Western Travis County

Officials want residents (and their pets) to be vigilant around any skunks.
flickr.com/kominyetska

Homeowners never relish the idea of a skunk in their yard, but some western Travis County residents have even more reason to be wary.

The Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department says there’s been two cases of rabid skunks in western Travis County, one of which was documented  just days ago.

Health and Human Services shares the following four tips to avoid contact with rabies, which it notes is “almost always fatal in humans once symptoms occur:”

  • Avoid feeding, touching or adopting wild animals, such as bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes.
  • Report suspicious animals to animal control by calling 3-1-1.
  • Vaccinate your family pets or livestock against rabies.
  • If you are bitten or if saliva from a suspected rabid animal comes in contact with your eyes, nose, mouth or a wound, wash the exposure site and seek medical attention immediately.
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The Lead
8:37 am
Fri October 19, 2012

The Lead: Austin’s Charter Election, Real Estate Prices Rising

Good Friday morning. The National Weather Service is forecasting warm days and mild evenings this weekend. Here’s a look at KUT News’ top stories:

And here’s some more stories from around the web:

  • 10-1 District Plan Backers Say They’ll File DOJ Complaint if Competing Plan Wins (Statesman)

Austin’s black population is small and dispersed, making it tough to draw a district that will encompass them. The larger the number of districts, the more likely that at least one district will have a large number of African American residents, giving them a fair shot at electing candidates they prefer, [Austinites for Geographic Representation] said.

David Butts, a member of Austin Community for Change, the group supporting the 8-3 plan, said African Americans would likely still be elected under that plan either to a district seat or a citywide seat. Austin has a long history of Hispanic and white voters voting for black candidates in local and state races, even in districts that have small populations of African-Americans, he said.

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City Council
5:06 pm
Thu October 18, 2012

Council OKs Changes to Short-Term Rental Rules; Lowers Notification Fee to $50

The Austin City Council voted 5-2 to slash the notification fee associated with short-term rental registration.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

City Council waded back into the choppy waters of short-term rental regulation earlier today – and emerged largely unscathed.

By a vote of five to two, council decided to lower the fee for notifying neighbors about a rental property, and directed the city manager to re-evaluate other issues surrounding the rentals.

Owners who want to register their rentals with the city need to pay $476 for licensing and the notification fees. But over half of that – $241 – was just for the city to notify owners of properties within 100 feet about the existence of a rental. Today, council voted to lower that fee to $50.

Many short-term rentals are already rented for the opening weekend of Formula 1 in November – but only a handful are registered with the city.

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