Fifteen or so residents of Sunny Acres, the self-styled sobriety center just outside of San Luis Obispo, have moved their beds and sleeping bags out of doors to protest what they believe is an imminent county order that will kick some out of the barn that the center has been using intermittently as a dormitory.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- BUNKS WITH A VIEW: : Sunny Acres owner Dan DeVaul spoke to a television reporter on Aug. 22 about a protest that has residents of the sobriety center sleeping outside.
# In the latest scuffle between the county and the owner, Dan DeVaul, Sunny Acres residents have lined their white steel bunk beds around a cinderblock fire pit within view of Los Osos Valley Road commuters.
Most residents actually usually sleep in an adjacent house the county's actions on the barn won't change that. A handful of residents, including one who's wheelchair-bound, had been in the converted barn.
DeVaul said he was told the barn could continue to be used for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but that nobody could sleep there without a conditional use permit, which DeVaul said would cost $400,000, a price he considers not just excessive, but unjust.
County Inspector Jill Bennett said she doesn't know how DeVaul came up with that figure, but said there's little the county can do at this stage.
The stucco building is zoned for agricultural use only, she said. With people sleeping there, "the building is out of compliance."
Bennett said the county has been investigating possible land-use violations on his land. Though those alleged violations aren't necessarily related to the barn, they would have to be addressed before DeVaul could get a permit.
Meanwhile, none of the residents seems to plan to go back inside any time soon.
"I guess it's going to go on until I give out, until [the residents] give up, or until the county gives in," said DeVaul, owner of the center and the surrounding ranch.
"It will probably go on until Oprah gets here," Judie Najarian, president of the Sunny Acres Board, said hopefully. (Oprah Winfrey's show has been contacted, but they've made no commitments.)
"I'll be here as long as it takes," said resident Dave Shelton, a burly tattooed parolee and recovering "abuser" who's been at Sunny Acres since June 20 and is one of those sleeping out. He's become a fierce advocate of DeVaul's efforts which he describes as teaching people how to help themselves.
Shelton put it this way: He's not about to stay at the Maxine Lewis shelter "It smells like feet," he said and there's really only one other option.
"The alternative to this place is me wandering the streets," he said. "Is that really what the county wants?"
The protest is the latest attempt to bring attention to what DeVaul and his supporters see as a struggle to do a public good against the shackles of an overly rigid bureaucracy.
DeVaul and county code enforcers have butted heads for years over the way the property has been used and debris that has piled up there. He sees the conflict as a broader struggle against the yuppiefying of the community, and says troubles really started when "turds" started building upscale homes on the hillside across Los Osos Valley Road and complaining that his land marred their view.
But the latest fight is also set against the backdrop of a plan by DeVaul to develop his property into something that would dedicate 10 acres permanently to Sunny Acres but use the rest for housing some intended to be affordable and some intended for "estate homes."
That plan, too, is running into county concerns.
"In the meantime, all these people are showing up," Najarian said. "We've had people in all stages of detoxification. We had one gentleman show up today. They are changing their lives. We do have a success rate."
She said the ranch's problems emphasize a nationwide problem.
"The building and development codes are really working against the people nobody can afford a home anymore," Najarian said. "Something has to change."