Dan DeVaul has been running Sunny Acres, a nonprofit facility for clean and sober living on Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo, for nine years. Sunny Acres currently houses 32 people who otherwise would have no refuge anywhere in the county, including 12 who live in the 100-year-old ranch house in which DeVaul grew up and 20 who live in modest cabins. Most of these residents are being fed three meals every day in a kitchen within a converted barn.
DeVaul faces jail for two misdemeanor criminal counts of building-code infractions (last year he served two days of the possible 90 he faces), but in addition, just lost his appeal of the county’s civil suit against him, which seeks to force into the streets the 20 indigent residents sheltered in the cabins who have nowhere else to live but Sunny Acres. As a result of the ruling, the county would also close down the kitchen.
Everyone works at Sunny Acres. Those who pay the full program fee, about one third of the residents, are nonetheless required to work four hours per week; the rest, who have no resources and therefore pay nothing, work full time. This requirement is part of the recovery program, which also includes attending an AA and an NA meeting onsite every week. The work can be collecting food donations—thank you, Albertsons—preparing meals, caring for the poultry/egg and cow/calf operations, splitting and stacking firewood sold by the roadside, maintaining chainsaws and other tools, and upkeep of the tractors, jeeps, and trucks used on the ranch. Sunny Acres residents also work in the 12-acre garden. Not only does the produce they cultivate nourish them, it is sold at the roadside stand and to local restaurants and markets. This year, tomatoes, corn, bell peppers, and squash have been planted. No chemical sprays are used.
Many volunteers help sustain Sunny Acres on the 72-acre DeVaul ranch. They assist with scheduling and operations, a therapist contributes free counseling, and they handle correspondence and public relations. Dan DeVaul works nonstop.
Early this year, John W. Belsher, Sunny Acres’ pro bono attorney, drafted an “Offer to Settle” regarding DeVaul’s well-publicized ongoing conflicts with San Luis Obispo County. The proposal to the Board of Supervisors pointed out the fact that the county has, despite a budget crisis, spent large sums of money to pay attorneys (outside counsel) in a case that should and could be settled. The county has relentlessly continued a pointless campaign to harass a taxpaying citizen who houses people who have no other refuge, a man who aids the disabled at no expense to the county.
Sunny Acres and Dan DeVaul have filed for a building permit for a 14-room, 8,000-square-foot house to shelter the homeless. Sunny Acres has dutifully responded to county concerns by doing cleanups, provided clean results of water tests to the Health Department, and provided the legal documents necessary from architects, engineers, and septic inspectors. All of this work is in compliance with county codes, including regulations relating to the roadside stand, kitchen, and agricultural activities.
“In light of this spirit of cooperation, we propose [a] settlement,” Belsher said.
San Luis Obispo County rejected the offer, claiming it would violate current building, zoning, and land-use ordinances.
Dan DeVaul was given permission by the county to build a single family residence on his property four years ago. He still needs soil and septic reviews plus geological and more engineering studies, which are very expensive. DeVaul would very much like to build this legal structure to house the people who dearly need help, but the county has said he must kick the people out of the cabins and close the kitchen to qualify for the building permit.
The bottom line: The people who live at Sunny Acres have nowhere else to go. Drug use, alcohol addiction, disability, financial instability, and mental illness have alienated many of these people from their families and friends. County shelters for the homeless are full. To force the residents of Sunny Acres onto the streets and back to the creek, to end their access to regular meals, is to condemn them to return to drugs and alcohol abuse. It is cruel and entirely unnecessary.
Why can’t the legislators of this county be lenient to the disabled residents of Sunny Acres and let them continue to be housed until the legal residence is built? Is not a new wood cabin with electricity, a bed, basic amenities, and a nearby bathroom and shower better than no shelter at all? Why can’t the demolition of a barn be postponed on this 72-acre property while the legal housing is being built?
Should a man be fined and prosecuted for feeding and housing the needy? That is the ultimate question. Search your heart.
Ellie Livingston graduated from Cal Poly. She has trained horses and taught riding at Sun King Farms in Arroyo Grande for 26 years. Send comments to the opinion editor via firstname.lastname@example.org.