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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Austin
3:44 pm
Tue January 31, 2012

What Will Austin’s Soundproofing Program Do For Downtown Clubs?

A band plays the Mohawk last year. Venues like the Mohawk may be eligible to participate in a soundproofing program for Downtown clubs.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/rogerho

How much sound mitigation can you buy for $40,000?

That a question the Austin City Council is poised to consider this week, as they consider a resolution that would enact a sound mitigation case study at a music venue downtown. It’s a signal of the importance of music to the city’s economic and cultural health, but also a symptom of the growing pains downtown is entering as more people move into the city’s urban core – and how the two can often be at odds.

The resolution before council this Thursday, Item 14, calls to change the name of the Downtown Venue Relocation Program to the Music Venue Assistance Program, and “initiate, fund, and oversee a sound mitigation case study of a relevant music venue in an amount up to $40,000 from the Downtown Development Fund.”

“What we really want to do is keep as many venues downtown as we can, because you want a concentration of music venues in a relatively small place so it’s walkable,” says council member Bill Spelman, sponsor of Item 14.  

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Austin
1:41 pm
Tue January 31, 2012

ATX Index: Austin on the Cheap (For Out-of-Towners, at Least)

Food trailer eats rank understandably high in a guide to an affordable weekend in Austin.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

We've got cheap dates, displaced pizzerias, and grim history in today's rundown of Austin links.

Austin on $100 a Weekend: The New York TimesFrugal Traveler blog shares some recommendations for a semi-affordable weekend in the City of the Violet Crown. Declaring that “Austin has a worldly heft all its own,” the itinerary hues closely to affordable eats and entertainment: Heavy on the food carts, Capital Metro rides, and even a stop at campus mainstay Ken’s Donuts (for a samosa, naturally).

Red House on Hold: One place traveling Yankees won’t be visiting anytime soon is popular Manor Road food and drink purveyor Red House Pizzeria. Eater Austin laments that the establishment has gone ‘on hiatus’ after losing their lease.

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Austin
11:24 am
Tue January 31, 2012

Burn Ban Lifted Again

A ban on outdoor burning was lifted this morning by the Travis County Commissioners Court.
Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/compasspoint

It seems like just weeks ago that a burn ban was put back into place for Travis County. (In fact, it was.) But citing the amount of rain the county’s recently received, the ban was lifted this morning by the Travis County Commissioners Court.

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Politics
4:53 pm
Mon January 30, 2012

Will Texas Primaries Be Pushed Back Again?

The latest news in the Texas redistricting fracas is that agreement on a map may not come in time for April primaries.
Voting images by KUT News; Texas Capitol by Lizzie Chen for KUT News; Gavel photo courtesy flickr.com/fabliaux

It looks like the April 3 date for Texas primaries – already pushed back from March – may get shoved back again.

The Associated Press reports one of the parties in the redistricting lawsuit that has delayed the primaries, Luis Vera, representing the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) says negotiations have stalled, and doesn’t anticipate talks between the state and the parties that sued to block the state’s redrawn map will be concluded in time.

The parties were given until February 6 to settle on redrawn districts, in time to preserve the April 3 primary. The groups are gathered at a conference in San Antonio in an attempt to hash out differences.

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Texas
3:47 pm
Mon January 30, 2012

How Texans Can Make a 13 Pound Bass Live Forever

Did you know Texas has a program to propagate fish in the state’s lakes and reservoirs?

It’s called the Toyota ShareLunker program, and run by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF). (It’s sponsored by the car-maker, hence its inclusion in the name.)

While the program was launched in 1986, TPWF notes that it stretches back much further – coincidentally, to a time of drought much like today's:

The roots of the ShareLunker program can be traced to the drought of the 1950s. That 10-year dry spell brought home to Texans the fact that the state’s burgeoning population had outgrown its water supply. A few reservoirs had been built previously, but the 1960s and 1970s witnessed the completion of many more. Texas had only one natural lake — Caddo — and the native species of Texas bass, the northern, was adapted to live in streams.

Fish adapted to live in large lakes were needed to take advantage of the new reservoirs, and in 1971 TPWD brought the first Florida strain largemouth bass to Texas.

To that end, the ShareLunker program was created to breed bass. It even propagated its own breeding establishment, the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, outside of Athens, Texas.

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Austin
1:35 pm
Mon January 30, 2012

How is City Council Responding to Austin Energy’s Proposed Rate Hikes?

The Austin City Council will hold another public hearing on Austin Energy’s proposed rate increases this Thursday. If it’s anything like the last hearing, expect dozens and dozens of citizens to speak in protest of the proposal.

But with opinion divided on how best to proceed, and the policy debate arguably mutating into a political issue as campaign season begins, it’s uncertain exactly when the increases will be settled. And as council members are inching toward a solution, so far it’s been on separate paths.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the first to prominently, publicly address electricity rate hikes outside of council chambers. In a blog post, he gave five reasons he opposed the increase as drafted. He also offered some suggestions on how to improve the proposal. He suggested phasing in the increases -- including a base amount of power in the controversial based changes the utility’s proposed (which would increase from $6 to $22) -- and applauding “time-of-use’ billing that would charge more during peak system times.

Council member Bill Spelman went further late last week, releasing a thorough “starting point” for discussion of rate increases. One of Spelman’s most notable proposals is to reduce the $22 in base fees to $15, and have that amount include 250 kilowatt hours of electricity. He also wants to waive those base fees for low income customers.

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City Council Elections
12:00 pm
Mon January 30, 2012

Austin Election Update: Willie and Lance Endorse, Place 2 Challenge, and a Hallucinatory Candidacy

Willie Nelson (L) and Lance Armstorng (R) have announced their endorsement of Lee Leffingwell.
Nelson photo courtesy Larry Philpot, soundstagephotography.com; Leffingwell photo courtesy his campaign; Armstrong photo courtesy http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Haggisnl

Mayor Lee Leffingwell is taking nothing for granted in his re-election bid.

Despite a lack of formidable opposition, Austin’s incumbent mayor announced two high profile, if unorthodox, endorsements this weekend. His campaign shares the details:

AUSTIN, TX – Mayor Lee Leffingwell is excited to announce today that he has been endorsed by two of Austin’s favorite adopted sons – country music legend Willie Nelson and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

 “I love Austin and I think Mayor Leffingwell has done a real good job of helping keep it a special place,” said Nelson.  “I’m proud to give him my endorsement.”

 “Mayor Leffingwell has been a strong leader and I think he deserves another term,” said Armstrong.  “I hope my fellow Austinites will join me in supporting him for re-election.”

Austin’s municipal election is set for May 12.

Race Shaping Up in Place 2?

A vocal critic of City Hall has settled on a place in which to run.

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Austin
4:33 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

Storms Bring Deluge of Lost Pets to Shelter

Do you know me? This female cocker spaniel at the Austin Animal Center is thought to be someone's pet.
Photo courtesy City of Austin

It was raining cats and dogs this week. And as a result of those storms, the Austin Animal Center is overflowing with lost pets.

Pets often respond poorly to extreme weather, and after heavy rainstorms blew through the Austin area, dozens of dogs and cats were taken to the Austin Animal Center. The City of Austin has taken note, stating:

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Health
3:11 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

Health & Human Services Tells Texas Insurers to Pay Up

A provision in the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to spend 80% of patient premiums on care. Texas had sought to delay its implementation.
flickr.com/trp0

Under a federal determination released today, insurers in Texas will have to abide by spending rules set forth in President Obama’s signature health care reform package. 

One of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act stipulates that insurers must spend 80% of customers’ premium dollars on medical care, and not overhead costs. Any overhead spending over 20%, and insurance companies would be required to issue rebates to their customers.

That said, states can apply for an adjustment of to increase the amount they spend on overhead. The Texas Department of Insurance applied to do just that, requesting to ramp up medical care spending more slowly: 71% for (current) reporting year 2011, 74% for 2012, and 77% for 2013.

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Austin
12:40 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

The Top 10 Austin Top 10 Lists

Austin: One of the fittest, most intelligent cities poised for greatness to do business in.
Photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:LoneStarMike

It’s gotten so that you can hardly count to ten without hearing about Austin’s latest accolade. Between high profile cultural events, the economic insulation of vast state and university employment, and a relatively affordable quality of life (at least compared to coastal enclaves like Los Angeles and New York), it’s not surprising everything’s coming up Austin.

But who can keep this procession of plaudits straight?

To get a gauge of just how many Austin-happy rankings are floating around at any one time, we looked for “best cities” rankings including Austin over the last two months. And from that, we compiled this meta-masterlist, a Top 10 of the city’s most recent Top 10 rankings ranging from the apparent, to the arbitrary, to the really, really arbitrary. 

So without further ado, Austin’s Top 10 Top 10 Listings:

  1. Green Tech Go: While it doesn’t rank Austin along other cities, this love letter from Time Magazine declares Austin has become “America’s Clean-Tech Hub.” It links growth in Austin’s nascent green and clean technology to its past performance in the semiconductor industry, and gives a shout out to the Pecan Street Project energy distribution experiment.
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Austin
10:05 am
Fri January 27, 2012

Bus Accident Sends Del Valle Students to Hospital with Minor Injuries

A car accident involving a school bus in Del Valle sent 16 people to hospital, KVUE reports. Thirteen of them were students. The other three were in other vehicles involved in the crash.  Fifty-seven students were on the bus at the time, according to KXAN

KEYE tweets that Del Valle ISD says the bus was rear ended.

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Austin
7:43 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Suspect in Esme Barrera Murder Identified, Dead

James Loren Brown, left; and a police sketch of a suspect in a seemingly connected assault, right.

At a hastily called press conference this afternoon, the Austin Police Department confirmed they had a suspect in the New Year’s murder of Esme Barrera, a widely known, well-liked member of Austin’s music community.

They also said that their suspect, James Loren Brown, is dead, apparently of a suicide.

The Austin Chronicle reports more details:

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Austin
5:19 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Austin Passes Revised Pregnancy Center Law

At today’s City Council meeting, an ordinance requiring disclaimers at pregnancy centers was repealed. Pregnancy centers are religiously-motivated establishments that test for pregnancy but don’t provide abortions or refer to abortion providers.

But moments later, council approved a revised version of the ordinance, one they felt was on firmer legal ground.

Both measures passed on a unanimous, 6-0 vote (with Mayor Lee Leffingwell out of town for today’s meeting).

As we previously reported, the ordinance the council passed in 2010 required disclaimers at pregnancy centers stating they did not provide abortions, birth control, or medical devices.

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Lance Armstrong
3:42 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Introducing ATX Index: A Look at Austin Around the Web

In which we serve a heaping helping of links for your reading pleasure:

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Politics
1:59 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

What’s Happening With Texas Redistricting?

Separate from the Supreme Court's recent decision, a federal court will decide on the constitutionality of Texas redistricting.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/fabliaux

With a flurry of legal actions surrounding Texas redistricting efforts, it's easy to get a little confused.

The confusion, in part, can be blamed on the different courts in play, each playing a part in the battle over the districts redrawn by the Texas Legislature in 2011.

Late last week, the Supreme Court threw out re-redrawn district maps drafted by a San Antonio district court. The San Antonio court claimed the Legislature’s new districts deprived minority voters of the right to equitable representation; the Supreme Court held that while there might be such problems with the Legislature’s maps, the San Antonio court should use the Legislature’s map as a blueprint for further revision, instead of drafting their own. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has since called for the San Antonio court to conclude their work quickly.

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