Opinion » Shredder

Martyr syndrome

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The mythos of Dan DeVaul is that he's a good man with a cantankerous streak who's generously devoted himself and his ranch to those struggling with addiction, helping them overcome their problems to lead clean and sober lives. Saint Dan bravely jousted—Don Quixote-style—with the uncaring SLO County bureaucracy as it cruelly made his compassionate vocation more difficult.

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DeVaul was, after all, taking in and helping those who county services wouldn't or couldn't. Without DeVaul, the people staying at Sunny Acres—his nonprofit clean and sober living facility—would be out on the street. In short, Dan DeVaul is a goddamn American hero—a David fighting the county's Goliath, an underdog sticking up for the little guy, a Robin Hood helping the poor and downtrodden.

It's a romantic notion, isn't it? And there's some truth to it, right? DeVaul leases 20 acres of his 72-acre property to the Sunny Acres nonprofit. As a recovered alcoholic and pill-popper himself, DeVaul knows addiction and what it takes to overcome it. But if Dan is such a wonderful, generous, benevolent figure, why are some of the nonprofit's resident-leaders accusing him of abuse and malfeasance, and trying to push him out?

And why now—10 years after DeVaul settled his dispute with the county to bring his ranch into code compliance—is he once again facing a bevy of the very same code violations? What kind of a shit show is he running out there? Perhaps most importantly, why does DeVaul think the rules don't apply to him?

"Isn't it funny?" DeVaul asked New Times. "People from [SLO County] Drug and Alcohol, they've got facilities up there to take care of people. But they love sending them out for me to take care of them. The sheriff brings people out here—the people with 290s, the sex offenders. Parole has been sending people out here ever since I started. But yet, they can't throw enough rocks at Dan DeVaul and Sunny Acres."

There's your answer! Dan DeVaul doesn't have to follow the rules because Dan DeVaul, who speaks of himself in the third person, is doing what no one else is willing to do. He's like Jesus washing the feet of lepers, see? That's why he doesn't have to supply potable water to his residents, who he charges up to $550 a month to live there and who are expected to work his ranch. That's why he can install a septic system, build apartments, and do electrical work without pulling permits or following building codes.

I mean, what? You gonna make Jesus get a catering license before he feeds 5,000 men with fives loaves of bread and two fish? Hell no! Go, Dan! You freaking rule, bro! Damn, is that a halo I see?

Which is why it's weird that not everyone living out at Sunny Acres worships Dan like the martyred saint he believes himself to be.

Sunny Acres Program Director Johnny Rodriguez recalled when he first came to DeVaul's program as a client in 2016: "It was a very toxic place. There were men and women both in the program at the time. I was offered to go drink and get high more times than I can count."

Rodriguez eventually became a program leader, putting a stop to DeVaul's "harm reduction model with people using and drinking," which led to "people that were there for the wrong reasons" leaving.

"Seventy percent were hiding behind sober living environments while still actively using drugs and alcohol," Rodriguez said. "We had people working on the house. We would find beers in the rafters and pipes in the unfinished building. If you were able to work, it was overlooked."

Doesn't sound "clean" or "sober" until Rodriguez took over, and that's when DeVaul allegedly became verbally abusive toward clients, threatened eviction, cut off a contract for bottled water delivery service, and demanded clients pay the $550 rent directly to him rather than the nonprofit.

Jesus, that's not very Jesus-y, Dan.

How much of this is fact and how much is "DeVaul said, Rodriguez said" remains to be seen, but what's not in dispute is DeVaul's continual flouting of county codes. He's got people living in garden sheds, RVs, and unpermitted barn apartments. He's allowed fill-dirt to pile up on a designated floodplain against county regulations. He's got a well that's been so polluted and mismanaged you can't even water a pumpkin patch with it.

"He acted on his own interests, not in the interests of the people he serves. His position is what allows him to keep trying to evict us, and we're sick of it," Sunny Acres Peer Services Manager Joseph Kurtzman said. "What we want is him and his son off the board of directors."

There have always been people who've argued DeVaul is in it for the money. Former SLO City Councilperson Christine Mulholland suggested it more than a decade ago, but the public wanted to believe DeVaul was altruistic. Now he's looking more and more suspect.

Sunny Acres houses a vulnerable and undesirable population. Drug and alcohol abusers, sex offenders, and the homeless live precarious lives. If this is a battle between DeVaul's ego and a desperate group of addicts committed to recovery, I know whose side I'm on. Δ

The Shredder refers to itself in the royal third person. Send genuflect and bow to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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