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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City Hall Hustle
4:13 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

City Hall Hustle: The Walking Dead (Agenda)

A zombie agenda lumbers back to life for the Austin City Council this Thursday.
flickr.com/mirsasha

Zombie projects, zombie agenda: What's up for council consideration this week.

They’re baaack!

With a relatively thin 57 items, the Austin City Council should make short work of this Thursday’s agenda. But rising, zombie-like, once more are several items the council’s dealt with before (albeit not with a slug to the head).

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University of Texas
10:06 am
Mon March 25, 2013

Report: Gov. Perry Pressuring UT-Austin President Powers to Resign

A report this weekend claims Gov. Rick Perry is telling UT-Austin President Bill Powers to resign before he's removed by the Board of Regents.
Bob Daemmrich / Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Simmering tensions between University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers and the UT Board of Regents keep rising: An article in the Houston Chronicle claims Gov. Rick Perry – who appoints the regents – “has communicated through emissaries that Powers should resign to avoid an embarrassing regents vote to fire him.”

Chronicle reporter Patricia Kilday Hart spoke with Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. Sen. Zaffirini argues that recent several actions by the Board of Regents – a special-called meeting to discuss a sexual encounter between assistant football coach Major Applewhite and an adult student, a sweeping open records request, and the controversial decision to re-investigate financial arrangements at the UT Law School foundation – are designed to “make life miserable” for Powers and lead to his resignation.

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Austin
10:55 am
Fri March 22, 2013

Austin's 'Lamar Street Art Gallery' Says Goodbye – For Now

The so-called "Lamar Street Art Gallery" was painted over this morning.
imgur.com/BbttPqQ

The “Lamar Street Art Gallery” – a collection of street art painted and pasted up on a wall by the Lamar Boulevard underpass just north of Town Lake – is no more.

For now, at least.

This morning, a poster on the Austin page of social sharing website Reddit posted a photo of the wall being painted over.

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Austin City Council
8:45 am
Fri March 22, 2013

Quick Turnaround Expected for Austin Energy Governance Study

Council members hope to review a study of utility governance before voting on whether an independent board should be installed at Austin Energy.
I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

The Austin City Council has approved a study of public energy utilities governed by an independent board. But the city will have to work quickly.

The item comes as the council looks to create an independent governing board for Austin Energy. The council has traditionally overseen the utility, but that was before Austin Energy’s recent rate increase, which created political pressure that some feel could ultimately deregulate the city-run utility. Now a council majority appears supportive of handing off day-to-day operations.

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Austin City Council
5:22 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

City Council Examines Alley Activation & Parking Overload

Seattle developed this concept art when the city began "activating" its alleyways in 2010.
UW Green Futures Lab/Scan Design Foundation/Gehl Architects

The Austin City Council had parking on its mind today. And now Austin is one step closer to eliminating minimum parking requirements for many downtown businesses, and looking at a program could to lessen the number of cars entering downtown. 

Pilot Parking Program

The council heard a briefing on parking program encouraging businesses to reduce car commuting. The program could begin as soon as April, if the council approves a measure next week.

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City Hall Hustle
5:06 pm
Wed March 20, 2013

City Hall Hustle: Luxury Hotels, Affordable Housing & the Zoning Brawl Over Downtown Density

How (or whether) to capture public benefit from increased zoning density Downtown is consuming the council's attention.
flickr.com/dingatx

The City Council adopted the Downtown Austin Plan in late 2011. With it, the council OK’d what’s called the Downtown Density Bonus Program. It basically says that developers who want to build more densely than the standards allow would have to offer certain community benefits: things like on-site affordable housing or a paying into a fund for affordable housing elsewhere.

But nearly a year and a half later, Austin’s still waiting on specific guidelines for the Density Bonus Program.

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Affordable Housing
1:58 pm
Fri March 15, 2013

A Minimum Wage Job in Austin Gets You a Two-Bedroom Apt. – And a 111-Hour Work Week

In order for housing to be considered affordable, it shouldn’t cost tenants more than 30 percent of their income.
flickr.com/milestonemanagement

Austin has the highest average rent in the state of Texas. And Austinites trying to afford housing on minimum wage need to work close to three full-time jobs.

That’s according to a new study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The non-profit looked at the average fair market rent for Austin apartments and calculated how many hours minimum wage workers need to work so their rent is affordable – meaning it’s no more than 30 percent of their earnings.

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SXSW
10:58 am
Wed March 13, 2013

Photos: SXSW Interactive Awards

Aisha Tyler hosting the 2013 South by Southwest Interactive awards last night.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Three SXSW Interactive finalists explain their projects

South by Southwest Interactive powered down last night, although not before a blowout closing party at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q and the SXSW Interactive Awards.

The 16th Annual Interactive Awards held at the Hilton Austin Downtown honored winners across 15 different categories. Emcee Aisha Tyler kept the jokes coming at a rapid clip, imploring honorees (with mixed success) to keep their acceptance speeches Tweet length. And bluegrass performers The Austin Steamers kicked the festivities off with a Texas twang.

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SXSW
2:54 pm
Tue March 12, 2013

At SXSW Interactive, Civic Apps Hack City Data For a Safer Austin

A "hackathon" of City of Austin data resulted in an app mapping the location of known dangerous dogs.
flickr.com/satyrika

As South by Southwest Interactive grows, so does the difficulty of trying to encapsulate the annual conference. And while onlookers can point to big themes in 2013 and much, much more, one burgeoning area with real world applications is civic apps and hacks.

Simply put, civic apps take publicly available data – anything from crime statistics to restaurant inspection scores – and mashes them up with applications like maps, making them accessible to the smartphone set. The biggest example is Code for America, a national non-profit that works with cities to develop meaningful data applications.

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SXSW
5:28 pm
Mon March 11, 2013

Photos: SXSW Monday, March 11

A duo of jazz musicians play on Sixth Street during SXSW.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

With badge pickup for the music portion of South by Southwest open, a changing of the guard is afoot.

While the crowds at Austin Convention Center are as thick as ever, spillover into the streets of downtown Austin is relatively quiet at this point.

“This year it seems a little bit calmer that last year, so far,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said.  “Music starts tomorrow, so we anticipate things to start heating up.”

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SXSW Interactive
10:30 am
Fri March 8, 2013

Six Big Topics at SXSW Interactive

Ball Aerospace's Jake Lewis reflected in the James Webb Space Telescope’s array. NASA has built a full-size model of the telescope for SXSW Interactive.
NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham/Emmett Given

Last year, South by Southwest had approximately 60,000 registrants. And close to half of them – nearly 25,000 – came for SXSW Interactive.

In 2013, SXSW Interactive is still growing – but by five to seven percent, instead of the 15-20 percent leaps seen over the last few years. “That’s probably a good thing,” says SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest. He says continued but manageable growth means “a little more bandwidth to manage some of the rough edges of the event and hopefully improve the usability.” Or in the words of CNN: “SXSW may have peaked –and that's not a bad thing.”

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Amber Alert
5:50 pm
Thu March 7, 2013

Amber Alert: Missing Houston Girls

Texas Dept. of Public Safety

Public safety officials are searching for one-year old Jordan Malik Simpson and two-year old Nevaeh Kimora Simpson. They were last seen in Houston, Texas. Bonnie Benton Miller is named as an abduction suspect. She’s thought to be driving a silver 2005 Honda Accord, license plate no. CYX069.

You can read more at the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Amber Alert page.

City Hall Hustle
4:58 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

City Hall Hustle: What’s Up With Downtown Parking?

A detail of a city map designating the Central Business District, aka downtown.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Hustle on the perils of parking

In a few days, downtown Austin will be overrun with crowds for South by Southwest – so why is the city practically doing away with downtown parking requirements?

“Many cities are reducing or eliminating their parking requirements as a means of reducing congestion,” argued Chris Riley, the Austin City Council’s resident transportation wonk. Coincidentally, he's the prime proponent of a measure deep-sixing most parking requirements downtown.

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City Hall Hustle
5:14 pm
Wed February 27, 2013

City Hall Hustle: The Return of Short-Term Rentals

A protest outside City Hall last summer, calling for stricter short-term rental regulation. The council is scheduled to revisit the topic this week.
Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Short-term rentals rears its head again

The Austin City Council convenes this Thursday to a 78-item agenda. And one item – on first glance – might strike fear into the heart of even the most hardened council watcher: short-term rentals.

Or maybe not this time. In contrast to the council’s hard-fought first-round of rental regulation, the sponsors of Item 40 – the rental resolution – see it as more of a clean-up item. With the number of properties participating in the city’s rental registry painfully low, the measure creates new classes of rentals – like renting one room, instead of an entire dwelling – and creating fines for unlicensed rentals – up to $2,000 a day.

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Transportation
3:32 pm
Tue February 26, 2013

Austin Could Start Impounding 'Gypsy Cabs' - Including HeyRide Drivers' Cars

Looking to offer rides over South by Southwest? If drivers aren't licensed with the city, they could have their cars impounded.
flickr.com/atmtx

Police may begin impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers who offer rides for money – and that includes drivers using online apps like SideCar.

Item 30 on this week’s Austin City Council agenda would allow police to impound “a ground transportation service vehicle operated in violation” of the city code governing transportation franchise agreements, like the ones in place with Austin taxi companies.

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Urban Rail
4:59 pm
Fri February 22, 2013

Experts Share Five Steps to Launching Urban Rail in Austin

Light rail in Seattle. Experts from around the country have advice on Austin's urban rail push.
flickr.com/leelefever

Austin doesn’t have urban rail – but it’s already suffering from an identity crisis.

That was one big takeaway from a presentation by urban planning experts on how Austin can get a rail project up and running.

Austin is one of four U.S. cities chosen as part of an Urban Land Institute fellowship focusing on urban issues. The participating cities each chose a focus issue for a year-long study – and Austin chose rail.

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City Hall Hustle
4:16 pm
Wed February 20, 2013

City Hall Hustle: What’s Next for the Council and Austin Energy?

An Austin Energy truck makes repairs in the West Campus. The city council is debating whether an independent board should oversee the utility.
I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

The Hustle on all things Austin Energy

It isn’t everyday that citizens stay late into the evening to tell the Austin City Council what a good job it’s doing. But that was the case last week.

“You’ve guys have won awards – dozens and dozens and dozens of awards – for being the most innovative, green, efficient, well-managed, best customer satisfaction utility in the state of Texas,” environmentalist Tom “Smitty” Smith with Public Citizen told the council. “And you want to change this?”

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Technology
1:52 pm
Tue February 19, 2013

What Google’s Driverless Car is Doing in Austin

Google's driverless car, parked outside of the Hilton Austin.
Wells Dunbar, KUT News

A Texas Department of Transportation conference wouldn’t normally attract much attention. But invite a robot car to your meeting, and everything changes.

Google and its self-driving car were on hand at the Texas Transportation Forum today. The car – which relies on technology like radar and cameras to pilot itself – was the star of a panel on transportation and technology this morning.

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University of Texas
2:47 pm
Mon February 18, 2013

Watch: 'Harlem Shake' Rattles UT Austin

A screenshot from last week's Harlem Shake on the UT campus.
youtube.com/user/ATXCoop

It looks like the 40 Acres can’t get enough of the Harlem Shake. Today, a local filmmaker set up at the University of Texas to film the third Harlem Shake video set on campus.

In case the meme’s passed you by, here’s the scoop: Harlem Shake is an instrumental track from American DJ and producer Baauer. Featuring what Pitchfork Media calls a “menacing, world-smashing bassline that would cause even the Cloverfield monster to shudder in his gills,” the track provides the ideal soundtrack for viral videos. Know Your Meme has a comprehensive timeline detailing the dance’s proliferation.

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The Lead
8:46 am
Mon February 18, 2013

The Lead: CPRIT’s Trickle-Down Funding Troubles, Oil Field Thefts

A moratorium on CPRIT grants is affecting other cancer-fighting agencies.
Texas Tribune

Good morning, and happy Presidents Day. KUT News has a look at what’s open and closed today: all City of Austin’s administrative offices and other city are closed today, but trash, recycling and yard trimmings pick up will proceed as normal.  

The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for a warm, muggy day with a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon. High winds will make for elevated fire conditions, so be careful out there. 

Lead Story: The troubles roiling the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) are spreading to other research groups, The Texas Tribune reports.

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