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In search of a missing horse

My colleague George Skelton is on a break today, and I’m a last-minute fill-in, which gives me a chance to clear a few things off my desk, beginning with the mysterious story of a missing horse.

How do you lose a horse, you’re asking?

You start by riding the trails in the hills of La Canada Flintridge, near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as Leslie Boyle of Sylmar did May 24 on her 5-year-old mare named Lilly, a dun-colored horse with a dark mane and tail. The horse stumbled, then tumbled down a ravine. As Boyle picked herself up, the horse ran off, frightened.

Boyle, a 60-year-old registered nurse, had been riding with two friends, who spent several hours looking for Lilly, to no avail.

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“A helicopter came and looked, police, animal rescue. It’s like she disappeared into thin air and nobody can believe it.”

Boyle said that she has posted fliers everywhere and that countless people have volunteered to hike or ride through the hills in search of Lilly, but her whereabouts remained a complete mystery as of Wednesday afternoon.

Is she still running wild? Did she curl up under a tree, injured and frightened? Was she stolen?

“We really cannot figure it out, and if you knew the massive amount of people out there looking for her, you wouldn’t believe it,” said Boyle. “People are sending out e-mails and photos to friends. I’m not sure what to think about this. It has been three weeks, with photos all over the place. She’s on Craigslist, and we’re going to start searching rodeos, and I’ve got a tracker out there looking for her.”

Anyone who knows where Lilly is should call Boyle at (818) 359-3947.

::

It could be a hot, nasty summer in Westwood.

With huge budget cuts expected to hit UCLA and other UC campuses, there’s been some grumbling among faculty members who wonder how administrators can justify the proposed $185-million renovation of the Pauley Pavilion sports arena.

One professor says UCLA will be “falling from the status of a tier-one university” because of academic program cuts while it’s upgrading the home of the men’s basketball program, among other UCLA teams.

The state is “dumping us,” said the professor, who asked not to be named but urged me to stay on top of the story.

I can understand the anger and frustration. Steve Olsen, UCLA’s vice chancellor for finance, budget and capital programs, said it appears the UC system will take a $619-million budget cut in the coming school year, with UCLA shouldering $109 million of the shortfall.

A report to UCLA staff from Provost Scott Waugh warned of the “intensification of the state budget crisis” and cuts “far more severe than expected.” He said that “across-the-board solutions” may include “mandatory furloughs, salary cuts or hiring freezes,” but that even those might not be sufficient.

That’s all true, said Olsen, but he took issue with the claim that the Pauley renovation will add to woes on the academic side.

The renovation will be completed without any fiscal impact to the rest of the campus, he said. Of the $185-million price tag, $100 million is expected to come from private donations, $25 million from already approved student fees, and $60 million from athletic department revenue on ticket sales and TV deals.

As the professor notes, though, it’s fair to ask why a great university facing colossal budget cuts wants to spend time and energy asking donors to essentially support the basketball program.

Pauley is old and decrepit, said Olsen. It has seismic safety issues and it has to be fixed.

“I haven’t detected a broad movement among faculty to say, ‘You should stop Pauley because if you stop, it’ll help us.’ I think they understand the two issues are very separate.”

But summer is just beginning, and we’ll see how it plays out.

::

As I promised two years ago, I’ve been keeping an eye on construction of the new LAPD headquarters, which I can see through my window.

The $302-million project, you may recall, suddenly jumped to $340 million, then ticked up to $402 million, because this is the way things work in the world of huge projects financed by taxpayers. That’s why I had my binoculars on the work crews out there, making sure to keep everyone honest.

Well, one day the sun came up and the new projected final tally was $437 million, and I’ve been waiting patiently for the day when it hit a half-billion.

So this week, after hearing a rumor that the building was behind schedule and over budget yet again, I put in a few phone calls and was told something that I find nearly impossible to believe.

The opening is on schedule for September. And the final cost is expected to be almost within budget (the third or fourth budget, I should say) at $438.6 million.

Amazing.

And a final budget that’s only $136 million above the original projection is an accomplishment in public administration, trust me.

The only dirt I had left was a rumor that a 10th floor patio was built off of Chief Bill Bratton’s office so he could light a cigar now and then, so I asked Cora Jackson Fossett of the city Public Works Department if that was true.

“The patio lends itself to many uses, such as employee recognition ceremonies, retirement receptions and other small gatherings,” she said.

That doesn’t sound to me like it rules out cigar smoking.

I want Chief Bratton to know that if I’m the first guest, I’ll bring the cigars.

::

My Wednesday column on soaring gun sales in California and the rest of the nation drew a response from Sacramento. Dan Reeves, chief of staff to Assemblyman Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), said I was wrong in saying De Leon’s pending bill would limit customers to 50 rounds of ammunition per month.

It would actually require anyone who sells more than 50 rounds of ammo to apply for a $50 license and submit to a background check. And customers would have to leave a thumbprint with dealers when buying ammo. The main purpose, Reeves said, is to prevent unregulated private dealers -- some of them felons -- from selling huge stashes out of their trunks.

“Nevertheless, the NRA has for weeks posted erroneous bulletins whipping up their membership,” said Reeves.

Reeves said e-mails and phone calls to De Leon’s office have been downright frightening, with some of the yahoos saying they hope De Leon becomes a victim of a violent crime.

The legislator was also told to stop driving his “taco truck” long enough to use his brain and to “go back to Mexico.”

Lovely.

I’d be shocked, if not for the fact that the same kind of people write me regularly.

--

steve.lopez@latimes.com


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