Dan DeVaul, the owner of a makeshift rehab facility just outside the city of San Luis Obispo, is headed back to court, this time to fight the county over the use of his land.
The premise of his civil suit, filed June 17, is that the county violated its own policy as well as state policy regarding low-income housing and housing for individuals with disabilities. DeVaul argued that the county should be helping him by waiving building fees, instead of fining him for housing code violations. He’s also facing criminal charges as a result of those violations.
A representative for the county was not available as of press time.
DeVaul’s 72-acre farm has been making headlines since he started housing drug and alcohol addicts in the old farmhouse. It’s been a last refuge for more than 70 people at a time in structures ranging from tents to RVs to a converted stucco barn. Residents of Sunny Acres are required to stay sober and attend meetings to stay on the farm. Many of them would be homeless otherwise, but still the county determined in a series of hearings that DeVaul was illegally housing people in unsafe structures. Through a series of sweeps by code enforcement officials, the population was trimmed down to about 30 people living in the house and tents.
There is also the issue of debris and cars on DeVaul’s property. On May 19, SLO County supervisors unanimously approved a second phase of cleanup at Sunny Acres Ranch. The decision is part of a July 2008 abatement order, which has so far resulted in mobile homes and temporary living facilities being condemned and the removal of dozens of vehicles strewn about the ranch. Officials argue DeVaul has far exceeded the number of vehicles allowed on agricultural property, and say most of the vehicles he has can’t be classified as agricultural in use.
DeVaul said the county is basically making up the rules as they go.
“I have none of the benefits of being able to build along residential lines,” DeVaul said. “But because of [the county’s] decision I have none of the benefits of living on agriculture property either.”
“I just want them to get off my back,” DeVaul said of the county, “and allow me to build buildings to house the homeless in. We’ve got a lot of people still living in tents, and it’s a crime; they won't allow me to build housing for them”
DeVaul still faces an early July deadline to remove more debris from his ranch. DeVaul said he will seek an injunction on that order when he goes before a judge June 25.