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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Politics
11:15 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Workman Wins in Republican Primary

In Texas House District 47 covering western Travis County, incumbent Paul Workman handily won his Republican primary.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Workman bested Ryan Downton, 67 percent (9,644 votes) to 33 percent (4,782). 

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Politics
10:57 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Republican Battle for U.S. Senate Going to Runoff

The Republican skirmish for the U.S. Senate nomination isn’t any anywhere anytime soon.

With 63 percent of precincts reporting, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst is stopping short of the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff. He currently has 46 percent of the vote, or 499,817 votes.            

Former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz is second in a nine candidate field with 33 percent, or 359,177 votes.

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Politics
9:12 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Nail-Biter in Senate District 25

From left: Donna Campbell, Elizabeth Ames Jones and Jeff Wentworth are nearly locked neck and neck.
Photo illustration by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Looks like it could be bad news for incumbent State Senator Jeff Wentworth, whose District 25 covers part of Austin.

With just under eight percent of precincts reporting, Wentworth is locked in a three-way battle with challengers Donna Campbell and Elizabeth Ames Jones. Wentworth has locked up 36 percent. Campbell and Ames Jones have secured 32 percent each.

A former railroad commissioner, Ames Jones resigned her post in February to run in the state senate primary. Clashes between Wentworth and Ames Jones, including the former’s lawsuit against the latter, and an anti-Wentworth website squatting at jeffwentworth.com  reflect the tough tenor of the campaign.

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Politics
8:12 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

More Travis County Races to Call

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

While the writing’s on the wall in the Travis County D.A.’s race, it appears that’s not the only county race where early voting tells the tale.

In the race for Travis County Sheriff, incumbent Greg Hamilton handily leads challenger John Sisson in early voting, 71% (11,825) to 29% (4,799).

Sisson tried to make an issue out of Hamilton’s participation in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actions at the jail.

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Urban Rail
1:45 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

City Council Ponders Urban Rail Financing, Routes

This image compares the alignment of Capital Metro's rapid bus service (left), and the proposed urban rail route (right).
Image courtesy theoverheadwire.blogspot.com

On paper, the Austin City Council’s urban rail work session this morning was devoted to rail investment options. While the council discussed funding – including a worst-case scenario where the city collected bond dollars, but no matching federal grant – the proposed rail route received another vetting.

Transportation Department Director Rob Spillar started the session by recapping much of the work so far, and some of the reasoning behind the proposal as it stands. For instance, part of the reason rail has been proposed in two phases is due to what Spillar said was a desire to “simplify the overall proposed investment, making it that much more competitive when we go to the federal level.”

Those federal dollars – or lack thereof – were the subject of discussion.

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City Council
9:00 am
Tue May 29, 2012

City Council Takes Up Urban Rail, Austin Energy Rates

Photo by Liang Shi for KUT News

For all we know, our Austin City Council members – like most the rest of Austin – got in some rest and relaxation over Memorial Day.

Here's hoping they did, as despite the absence of a regular council meeting this Thursday, today brings two high profile work sessions on hot button topics: urban rail, and Austin Energy rates.

Urban rail is up first, at 9 a.m. Last week, the council received its first detailed briefing on funding schemes the city’s considering to pay for the first recommended phase of rail. That first phase would serve downtown, the Capitol Complex, the University of Texas, Hancock Center and the Mueller development.

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AM Update
8:23 am
Tue May 29, 2012

AM Update: Texas Primaries Finally Arrive, Fatal SMU Standoff, County Commissioners Meet

Polls are open until 7 p.m. in the Texas primaries today.
Photo by KUT News

Polls Open for 2012 Texas Primaries

After being pushed back repeatedly, the Texas primary elections are here.

Voters in the Republican and Democratic primaries will nominate candidates for offices ranging from the President and U.S. Senate to county positions like District Attorney and Tax Assessor-Collector.  You can view the parties’ sample ballots online.

Polls opened at 7 a.m., and although early voting numbers have been low, Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade is hoping for a higher election day turnout.

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City Council
12:36 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

City Council Recap: Downtown Land Deal, Animal Center Items Approved

The council voted to sell the former Green Water Treatment Plant site downtown for $42 million.
Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Austin City Council voted unanimously late last night to sell the largest city owned plot of undeveloped land downtown – the former Green Water Treatment Plant site west of the Second Street District, along Cesar Chavez Street. 

Developer Trammell Crow is buying the downtown plot for over $42 million dollars, with plans to build 826 apartments, 200 hotel rooms, retail and more.

The deal requires Trammell Crow to make 10 percent of the apartments affordable to people who make 80 percent of the median family income. The units will remain affordable for much longer than an initially-proposed seven-year term, which the council heard in April before postponing the sale. There will also be some requirements for construction worker pay and safety.

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City Council
3:19 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

City Council Update: Hurry Up and Wait

Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras, Leadership Committee on Permanent Supportive Housing Finance Chair Ed McHorse , and Texas Director for the Corporation for Supportive Housing Dianna Lewis-Gray.
Image courtesy City of Austin

It’s slow-going at City Hall as the Austin City Council trudges through its agenda.

A lengthy executive session has kept the council off the dais since this afternoon. And some marquee items have been postponed until this evening: The sale and redevelopment of the former Green Water Treatment Plant site downtown (Items 12 and 13) won’t be heard until at least 6:30 p.m.

And Item 22, which would allow Austin Pets Alive to occupy the entire Town Lake Animal Center won’t be heard until at least 6 p.m.  Similarly, a public hearing on new regulations for short-term rentals by homeowners (Item 140) has been postponed to June 7. 

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Charter Revision
1:24 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

Austin League of Women Voters Endorses 10-1 Geographic Representation

A detail of the petition Austinites for Geographic Representation is circulating to put the 10-1 plan on the ballot.
Photo by Wells Dunbar for KUT News

The Austin-area League of Women Voters says it now supports the “10-1” plan for geographic districts for the Austin City Council.

The plan, supported by single-member district advocates Austinites for Geographic Representation, would create a city council comprised of members representing 10 individual districts, with only one member – the mayor – running city-wide. Currently all council members are elected city-wide.

The League of Women Voters spent a year studying how city council members are elected, and looking at what happened in other large cities that changed from an at-large system to one that was fully or partially district-based.

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City Council
11:17 am
Wed May 23, 2012

City Council Preview: Welcome Back - Now Here's 145 Items

Heading to City Hall this Thursday? You might want to pack a sleeping bag.
Daniel Reese for KUT News

The break’s over: City Council reconvenes this Thursday with a 141 item-long agenda. (Oh, and a four-item addendum.)

As the recent city elections and plans for an urban rail system have preoccupied council members’ time, we’ve prepared a crib sheet for this Thursday’s long slog. (You’re welcome!)

Green Waters Run Deep: Certain  to generate ample discussion at the meeting is Item 12, the sale of the former Green Water Treatment Plant site downtown, along Cesar Chavez Street, to developer Trammel Crow. 

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Urban Rail
2:38 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Feds May Cover Half of $550 Million Urban Rail Line

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

What’s the estimated cost of Austin’s first urban rail investment? $550 million.

That was the price tag the Austin City Council heard in a work session this morning. Assistant City Manager Robert Goode said some $550 million was required to build the first proposed phase of urban rail, from the convention center through the UT-Austin campus and on the Mueller neighborhood.

And while the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts funding program could cover roughly half of that, rail consultants said the city would need to cover the other $275 million, likely in large part through a bond election – should council place it on the ballot, and voters approve it.

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Waller Creek
10:35 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Photos: Inside the Waller Creek Tunnel

A construction worker surveys progress of the Waller Creek tunnel project.
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

On Saturday, members of the media were invited to check progress on the Waller Creek tunnel, currently being burrowed some 70 feet underground.

When finished, the tunnel will stretch just over a mile from Waterloo Park to an outlet at Lady Bird Lake. The tunnel will create a steady flow for Waller Creek, and inlets along the creek will prevent water from overflowing, pulling 1 million square feet of developable land out of the 100-year floodplain downtown.

A design competition plotting the future of the Waller Creek area is unfolding alongside the tunnel excavation.

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Business
5:18 pm
Fri May 18, 2012

Protesters Attempt to 'Occupy' Chase Bank

Jillian Schantz Patrick for KUT News

Members of Occupy Austin staged a protest at a local Chase Bank branch this afternoon, resulting in protesters’ ejection from the building.

Occupy Austin had pushed for the City of Austin to move their funds from Bank of America. In February, the Austin City Council passed a resolution looking at that possibility. But instead of shifting those funds to smaller banks or credit unions, as Occupy Austin had hoped for, the city transferred its money to JP Morgan Chase.   

On the heels of JP Morgan’s disclosure of billions in losses from risky financial trades, Occupy Austin members protested at a Chase branch on 19th and Guadalupe Street.

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Bond Election
3:05 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

A Couple Winners (But a Bunch More Losers) in the Austin Bond Proposal

A street construction program was halved in the latest bond spending proposal.
Photo by KUT News

Yesterday, KUT News took a look at what made the cut in the city’s latest proposal for a bond spending package. Today, we look at what took the biggest hits, and the few areas that saw a boost in funding.

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Education
3:52 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

This Takes the Cake: A Billion Dollar Bake Sale to 'Save Texas Schools'

Save Texas Schools drew attention to education spending cuts with a symbolic "bake sale" this afternoon.
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

We’re all familiar with school bake sales – those PTA-organized sugar-fests focused on raising money for band uniforms and financing field trips.

But Save Texas Schools, a group pushing for greater state investment in public education, hosted a bake sale this afternoon with a slightly loftier goal: raising, say, over five billion dollars selling cupcakes.

The tongue-in-cheek event, held in the shadow of the State Capitol, had a serous purpose: drawing attention to state budget cuts to education.

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Bond Election
3:08 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

What’s In Austin’s $575 Million Bond Recommendation?

The playgorund at Zilker Park. $20 million in improvements to "metropolitan" parks have been recommended for bond dollars.

Here’s a financial crash diet: going from $1.5 billion to $575 million. And then, down to $400 million.

Those are some of the moves Austin’s Bond Election Advisory Task Force has recently made. A citizen group appointed by the Austin City Council, the group was tasked with paring down an initial $1.5 billion “needs assessment” from the city’s various departments into something it could put to voters this November.

At a meeting Monday, the task force recommended what it feels is a balanced bond package. But because a separate vote on Urban Rail funding might also make it to the ballot – the Transportation department is set to make a recommendation for rail investment this Tuesday, May 29 – the task force is also compiling a smaller, roughly $400 million package to recommend, should rail make it to the voters.

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Downtown
11:17 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Meet the Teams Re-Envisioning Waller Creek Tonight

One of the spaces along Waller Creek today.
Image courtesy flickr.com/ginapina

A design competition is underway to determine the future of Waller Creek, which winds through the eastern half of Downtown. And tonight, the four teams competing to lead the development of the creek and its immediate surrounds are holding an open house.

A little background: Waller Creek has received sporadic attention over the years, but with the advent of the city’s Waller Creek tunnel project, the flood-prone waterway should finally have a steady flow.  

The project will also pull some 28 acres out of the 100-year floodplain downtown, creating a massive redevelopment opportunity the Waller Creek Conservancy hopes the four design teams will help steer.  

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2012 Presidential Election
2:04 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Ron Paul to Stay in Race, But Stop Campaigning

Candidate Paul greets supporters at an event last year.
Photo by KUT News

Texas congressman Ron Paul has announced that while he’s not dropping out of the Republican presidential primary, he will no longer be actively campaigning.

“Our campaign will continue to work in the state convention process,” Paul writes on his campaign blog. “We will continue to take leadership positions, win delegates, and carry a strong message to the Republican National Convention that Liberty is the way of the future.”

Indeed, Paul’s delegate strategy – and whether it might create a rift on the convention floor – has been the subject of much speculation.

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Texas Primaries
10:13 am
Mon May 14, 2012

Early Voting in Texas Primaries Starts Today

From one election to the next: Early voting in state and county primaries kicks off today.
Photo by KUT News

It's time to vote – again. On the heels of Austin's city election Saturday, early voting for the state and county primaries starts today, and runs through May 25.

The primary was originally scheduled for March but was pushed back because of disagreements over redistricting. Voters will get to choose the party nominees for President, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, among others.

In Travis County, voters will cast primary ballots for offices including district attorney, sheriff, and more.

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