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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Weather
3:31 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Insurers: Dallas Storm Damage May Exceed $400 Million

High winds destroyed a mobile home in Fannin County, outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area .
facebook.com/US.NationalWeatherService.FortWorth.gov

Powerful thunderstorms ripped through the Dallas-Fort Worth region late yesterday, producing strong winds and baseball-sized hail. Now comes the clean-up – and paying for it.

The Insurance Council of Texas notes the thunderstorm was the second extreme weather event to hit the region in the last six weeks. In April, several tornadoes unexpectedly touched down in the Metroplex area.

The insurance council estimates the cost of insured losses from the tornadoes exceeded $400 million – but adds "losses from last night’s storm could be higher."

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Crime
2:20 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Allen Stanford Sentenced to Over 100 Years

A 2009 mug shot of Allen Stanford.
United States Marshals Service

Texas financier Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison today, reports Agence France Presse.

Stanford was recently convicted on several charges, including fraud, after prosecutors proved he was running a Ponzi scheme with his Stanford International Bank:

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Health
1:00 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Teen HIV Cases on the Rise in Austin

An HIV virus under an electron microscope
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Local officials are warning of an increase in HIV infections in Austin’s adolescent population.

“We’ve identified just in the last few months about five newly confirmed HIV cases,” Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Medical Director Dr. Philip Huang tells KUT News. “By comparison, all of last year in Travis County, we had six cases.”

Dr. Huang couldn’t speak to specific cases, but cited Centers for Diseases Control statistics regarding sexually-active adolescents: some 52 percent of Texas high school students have had sex at least once, and only 54 percent of sexually active students used a condom the last time they had sex.

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City Council
10:04 am
Thu June 14, 2012

City Council Preview: 'Imagine Austin' Up for Adoption

City Hall may see a late night, as the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan is coming to the council.
KUT News

The Austin City Council meets today. And in a respite from the long slogs of recent meetings, the council faces a comparatively light 60 item agenda – but likely multiple hours of public testimony on the adoption of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.

Item 58 is calls for a public hearing and possible adoption of Imagine Austin, a long-term plan for the city’s growth and development which has been in the works since 2009. You can view the plan here.

The hearing won’t start until at least 6 p.m. this evening; the last time the council solicited testimony on the plan, it received four hours’ worth.

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Religion
3:47 pm
Wed June 13, 2012

Is an Eruv Coming to Austin?

The Austin City Council is considering the creation of an eruv in Austin.
Alex E. Proimos, flickr.com/proimos

Northwest Austin’s orthodox Jewish community may soon be able to move a little more freely on the Sabbath.

This Thursday, the Austin City Council is calling on staff to study the feasibility of creating an eruv.

“It’s a Hebrew word, eruv, and what it means is to mix together,” says Rabbi Eliezer Langer at the Tiferet Israel Congregation in Northwest Austin, located inside the proposed eruv.

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City Council
10:57 am
Wed June 13, 2012

Dueling Single-Member Districts: Coming Soon to a Ballot Near You?

The Austin City Council will soon set the ballot for this November's charter election.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The presidential election is just one thing on the ballot this November. Closer to home, voters will decide an election with broad implications for Austin’s future.

The Austin City Council began heavy lifting on these issues in a work session Tuesday. Although Austin voters face a multifaceted ballot, the initiatives can be broadly broken up into two categories: potential changes to the city charter – including a new, geographic-based form of council representation – and a bond election.

At its work session Tuesday morning, the council received a tentative timeline for setting the ballot:

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ROT Rally
3:01 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Ozone Watch in Effect for ROT Rally Saturday

The ROT parade thundering down Congress Avenue in 2011.
flickr.com/atmtx

While motorcycles rev into Austin for this weekend’s Republic of Texas Rally, they’re not the only thing pulling into the region: try ozone.

The Clean Air Force of Central Texas forecasts “Level Orange” ozone levels for this Saturday. That level sits nearly midpoint in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index – making ozone levels unhealthy for adults and children exerting themselves outside, plus asthmatics and people with lung disease.

How to lower ozone levels? The Clean Air Force suggests limiting driving, riding the bus and avoiding idling – highly unlikely scenarios for tens of thousands of cyclists cruising Austin this weekend. 

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Arts and Culture
2:49 pm
Thu June 7, 2012

Austin Symphony Orchestra Returns July 4th With a Bang

The July 4th symphony crowd at Auditorium Shores in 2007.
flickr.com/hayesandjenn

After an absence last year, the Austin Symphony Orchestra is returning to Auditorium Shores to ring in the Fourth of July.

The symphony announced today that it would host its 36th annual Independence Day concert along the shores of Lady Bird Lake – complete with fireworks – after the event was called off last year.

“We were in the middle of just a terrible drought, and pretty much within the last two and a half weeks or so [before July 4, 2011], the fire marshal decided that fireworks would not be in the best interest of any event at that particular time,” Anthony Corroa, executive director of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, tells KUT News. The decision set off a reaction leading to the event’s cancelation, but Corroa anticipates an all-clear this year. “In the off chance that fireworks get canceled,” he adds, “the concert will go on regardless.”

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City Council
9:57 am
Thu June 7, 2012

City Council Preview: Flipping the Switch on Austin Energy Rates, Short-Term Rental Regulations

Two high profile public hearings command City Council's attention today.
Paulo Martins for KUT News

Two contentious public hearings should bring dozens of speakers to Austin City Hall today – and stretch out what might otherwise be an unremarkable meeting into an all-night affair.

First, the council is scheduled to hear comments on an ordinance about short term rentals. Austin’s Planning Commission recently proposed a suite of new regulations for owners of short-term rental homes, with one set of rules for Austinites sporadically renting out their homes for events like South by Southwest, and stricter guidelines for homes that are not owner-occupied and are rented out more often.

Secondly, the council is also holding a public hearing on proposed electric rate increases for Austin Energy customers.

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Austin
4:18 pm
Wed June 6, 2012

District Divide: New Group Pushes Hybrid Proposal Over Single-Member Districts

Two groups are at odds about how to change Austin's form of elections.

While a citizens group continues to gather signatures to put single-member districts before Austin voters this fall, it’s not the only group looking to have a say.

The newly formed Austin Community for Change is offering its own proposal for changing Austin’s form of elections.

Currently, the mayor and all City Council members serve citywide. Opponents of this form of government argue the cost of running city-wide in a place the size of Austin makes candidacies prohibitively expensive, and deprives residents of underserved parts of town a council member who’s on their side.

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City Council
8:49 am
Tue June 5, 2012

Austin Energy Rates, Economic Incentives Up for Discussion at Council Work Session

Council previews their Thursday agenda today.
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

The Austin City Council will discuss proposed rate hikes for Austin Energy in a work session today.

It’s the last work session before the council is scheduled to take possible action on the proposal.

Last week, council members agreed on a plan that would break the increases into five tiers – charging a higher rate for more electricity used.

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Development
4:36 pm
Mon June 4, 2012

Architects, Designers Descend on Lady Bird Lake

The planning area in question, on the south side of Lady Bird Lake
Image courtesy City of Austin

The City of Austin wants to know: What do you want our waterfront to look like in 20 years?

Starting tonight, planners are facilitating a three-day discussion on the future of Lady Bird Lake’s “south shore central” area – Congress Avenue, First Street and eastward, including sites like the Hyatt Regency and Austin American-Statesman building. The talks kicked off this morning with boat tours of the area at stake.

Alan Holt, a principal planner with the city, says that this area is lacking in good infrastructure and “like it or not, slated for some big changes because there are a lot of parking lots and development at the end of their shelf life.”

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Urban Rail
12:55 pm
Mon June 4, 2012

Interview: Mayor Leffingwell on Call to Postpone Urban Rail Vote

Mayor Leffingwell on the postponement: "We have some breathing room."
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced on Friday that he opposed putting urban rail funding before voters in 2012 – a move that effectively nixed rail’s funding chances in the November bond election, and raised another round of hand wringing over transportation solutions for Austin. KUT News spoke with Mayor Leffingwell shortly after his announcement.

KUT NEWS: I doubt there was any one variable that lead you to your decision, but what were your reasons?

Lee Leffingwell: It’s a whole bunch of things coming together, but underlying it is, we have not yet answered some of the basic questions. We might have an answer prior to November, but time is running short to get the complete picture in place and to be able to go out and market it. Because you don’t just put this on the ballot and go away and hope for the best. You’ve got to really present it to the public. There’s a full education process that goes on with something like this. You have to go out and explain it to people.

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Food
3:09 pm
Fri June 1, 2012

Street Foods Go Upscale, But is Something Lost in Translation?

An El Pollo Rico location on East Riverside Drive was recently demolished.
Photo by Mose Buchele for KUT News

Traditional chicken al carbon – chicken grilled over a charcoal-fired flame – has gotten a makeover. 

Austin-owned Fresa's Chicken al Carbon – an upscale take on the Mexican street-food staple found at modest establishments like El Pollo Rico – opened this April.

"I'm a big fan of El Pollo Rico, which is an existing concept in East Austin, and I thought it would be really wonderful to provide a similar product," said Margaret Vera, one of the restaurant's three partners. 

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Austin
1:57 pm
Fri June 1, 2012

Video: UT Student Hit by Bus on 'Good Morning America'

The aftermath of Engmann's encounter with a Capital Metro bus.
Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

You may not know University of Texas freshman Nick Engmann by name – but if you follow Austin news, you’ve probably seen a video of him.

It’s a clip the electrical engineering major says he’s eager to put behind him. One month ago, Engmann was taking part in an end of semester campus tradition where finals-weary students charge at each other with foam swords to blow off steam. Engmann bolted across Guadaulpe Street to enter the fray – and was hit by a Capital Metro bus.

The video went viral, amassing 3.6 million views on YouTube.

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Transportation
11:58 am
Fri June 1, 2012

Leffingwell: 2012 'Not the Right Time' for Urban Rail

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, speaking at a rail event in 2010.
Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Citing timing and financial constraints, Mayor Lee Leffingwell is arguing funding for Urban Rail shouldn't be put to voters this November.

In a post on his website, Mayor Leffingwell writes "we do not yet have a sufficient level of certainty regarding a plan to fund and manage operations and maintenance of an urban rail system. We also do not yet have the degree of certainty that I would like to see as it relates to a prospective federal funding match for construction costs, which is a fundamental need."

He also notes that in addition to potential rail funding on the ballot this November, "we are also poised to ask [voters] to approve a host of other critically needed bond investments." 

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War and Peace
8:49 am
Fri June 1, 2012

Austin to Honor Those Who’ve Served in Iraq

Members of Fort Hood's First Calvary, Third Brigade, deployed to Iraq in 2008.
Photo by KUT News

Austin will commemorate the end of the Iraq War with a parade down Congress Avenue on July 7.  After the parade, there will be a job and resource fair for veterans inside the Capitol Building.

One veteran with multiple tours in Iraq says that’s important.

“I’m really happy that we’re having this job and resource fair because it can really provide a lot to service members. When you get out, a good support group is probably one of the best things you have, because when you’re in the army, you’re a team, and when you get out, you’re an individual again,” said U.S. Army veteran Marco Orrantia.

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Austin
10:42 am
Thu May 31, 2012

Slideshow: Emergency Preparedness Flash Mob Takes City Hall

Participants braved the afternoon heat to promote emergency preparedness yesterday.
Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Some 30 people gathered in front of City Hall yesterday, as part of a city-organized “flash mob” raising awareness of disaster preparedness.

The kid-aimed event began with a question-and-answer session for the little ones, complete with emergency pack prizes. Then it was time for the main event: a group dance to a hip-hop inflected preparedness song.  

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AM Update
8:33 am
Wed May 30, 2012

AM Update: Primary Results, Runoffs, and What's Next

Candidates bound for runoffs will keep electioneering until July 31.
Photo by Jillian Schantz Patrick for KUT News

Texas Primaries Results

Last night’s Texas primaries resolved several high profile contests, while sending other races to a runoff.

Near the top of the Republican ballot, beneath Mitt Romney’s win in the Presidential primary, the race for U.S. Senate carries on. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst came up short of a plurality, meaning he will face off against former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz in a runoff.

U.S. Rep.  Lamar Smith easily prevailed in his primary, despite opposition from Internet activists.  And on the Democratic side, longtime Austin U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett won handily in newly drawn Congressional District 35.

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Williamson County
11:30 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Howdy Duty!

Photo illustration by Brandi Grissom, Todd Wiseman for the Texas Tribune

Update 11:33 p. m.:

Challenger Jana Duty has unseated incumbent John Bradley, garnering 55% of the vote.

Original Post:

Early voting results are in for Williamson County, where the Republican primary race for District Attorney is arguably the one to watch.

Challenger Jana Duty has 53 percent of the vote compared to incumbent John Bradley’s 47 percent. Less than 700 votes separate the candidates. A little more than 1,500 votes were tallied in early voting.

Duty has made Bradley’s handling of the Michael Morton case a central plank of her campaign.

She told YNN last night: "The policies and procedures have to change because those procedures that was in place 25 years ago in the Michael Morton case, are still in place today,” Duty said. “We have to have an open discovery policy, we have to have fairness."

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