After weeks of testimony and argument about rancher and sober-living coordinator Dan De Vaul, the beleaguered case of whether to appoint a receiver for his Sunny Acres ranch ended not with a bang, but a fizzle.
The overall tone coming out of San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall’s court room is that everyone is simply sick of the case. In his closing arguments, De Vaul’s attorney John Belsher said appointing a receiver—at the rate of $500 per hour for potentially thousands of hours of work—would be a drastic remedy.
“It seems to me that everyone’s just tired of the problem,” Belsher said.
SLO County officials requested Crandall to appoint a receiver because, as they argue, De Vaul has failed to comply with a court order to clear code violations on his property, Sunny Acres. The ranch near the western border of the City of SLO has long served as a sober-living camp but recently lost some residents who had to leave the property after Crandall and the county ordered some of the structures to be vacated.
County officials argue De Vaul has violated the court order by dragging his heels and failing to submit proper permits that would allow him to return some of the illegal structures to an “ag-exempt status.” Doing so requires De Vaul to gut some of the illegally added electrical, plumbing, and stairs, for example.
The county requested to appoint a receiver who would take over the process and submit plans to architects and county building officials before either fixing the structures or simply tearing them down.
Days of testimony from county officials and Sunny Acres residents culminated in De Vaul taking the stand. The 68-year-old rancher said he’s had problems with the county on some specific issues because he believes some of the structures are OK so long as he removes such illegal add-ons as a bathroom, for instance. He said county officials haven’t given clear instructions, and he’s had to submit several permits in an attempt to zero in on what they want.
“It’s not disagreement, it’s trying to come to the same page on what they’re going to allow,” he testified. “… I don’t want to tear down anything that I don’t have to tear down.”
In his closing arguments, Belsher said he believed De Vaul could get his permits approved in just a few weeks. But the county’s Sacramento-based trial attorney, Terence Cassidy, said “each time there’s a step forward, there’s three steps back,” and urged Crandall to appoint a receiver.
Crandall took the arguments under consideration and said he would write an opinion. He said he would also consider one of Belsher’s proposals to move the matter out of the courts and appoint a retired judge or mediator to take over. Meanwhile, he scheduled a Dec. 7 hearing as a “check-in date” for the case. ∆