On Aug. 25, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall effectively shut down Sunny Acres. And after court, Dan De Vaul went back to the ranch to tell residents to get out, one by one.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Under Crandall’s order, many of the residents at Sunny Acres, a working ranch and sober living facility for otherwise homeless people in SLO County, have begun to leave.
Where they’ll go doesn’t seem to matter much in the eyes of the law, so long as it’s not Sunny Acres.
De Vaul, the ranch owner, has been mired in a long court battle since late 2009, when he was convicted of misdemeanor code violations for creating unsafe living conditions. According to the court and SLO County, various facilities—including the shacks where people slept and the converted dairy barn where they cooked meals and ate—had to be either returned to agricultural uses or demolished.
The court ordered those structures vacated. In response, De Vaul had residents cook, eat, and sleep outside. The structures weren’t completely emptied of clothes and other items, leading the county to believe people were violating the court order.
Crandall was noticeably frustrated in court, and said De Vaul was ignoring the court order.
“I’m not playing games,” he told De Vaul and his attorney John Belsher.
Crandall said De Vaul would have to clear all the residents not just from the structures, but completely off the property.
In response, De Vaul said he and other Sunny Acres managers were going to tell residents to leave by Aug. 29.
“It’s gonna get fucking ugly,” De Vaul told New Times shortly after court.
And ugly it got. On Aug. 27, after sitting down to a “last meal” in a ramshackle outdoor eatery because people have been prohibited from cooking or eating in the dairy barn, 13 of the ranch’s 23 residents began packing.
“I know you’ve been having a big headache here, but I just want to tell you how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for us,” Donald Ochs told a somber De Vaul over dinner. “This has been astronomical in our lives.”
Ochs and long-time girlfriend Serenity Jones had to leave the ranch because of the court order, but they may be more fortunate than others—they’ve secured an apartment for at least a month.
Others didn’t know where they’d go. De Vaul said a few couples must temporarily separate from each other. One departing married couple, De Vaul said, will have to live separately for the first time in years because the wife acquired Section 8 housing and her husband can’t move in without a certificate.
Without housing or the regular counseling Sunny Acres provided, others who left the ranch have returned to alcohol and drugs, according to volunteers and staff.
By Aug. 29, the 13 residents were off the property, and people were clearing refrigerators and other property they left behind.
De Vaul is due back in court Oct. 20, then the county will ask to be appointed a receiver. If Crandall grants the request—and he’s indicated he will—county officials will likely tear down many of the non-compliant structures at Sunny Acres. In the meantime, Crandall gave county officials authority to conduct random inspections of the ranch day or night.