Selective code enforcement: Is it ‘God’s will?’

February 24, 2009
 This dormitory residence at Roandoak of God hasn't been permitted by San Luis Obispo County since it was built 37 years ago. -- Photo from Roandoak Web site.

This dormitory residence at Roandoak of God hasn't been permitted by San Luis Obispo County since it was built 37 years ago. — Photo from Roandoak Web site.

By DANIEL BLACKBURN First in a series

Dan De Vaul, meet The Apostle.

While county officials pursue a vigorous (some say pernicious) criminal prosecution against high-profile De Vaul and his South County Sunny Acres Ranch for the hapless, another, longer-running code enforcement drama is being played out 20 miles northwest at a commune called Roandoak of God.

Roandoak, however, has three allies that De Vaul lacks — the county, The Apostle, and, apparently, the Lord.

Roandoak of God, scattered on flat acreage on the outskirts of Morro Bay, was intended to be a haven for life’s rejects, “all those who need help,” in the words of its founder, Galeb Amhurst, the original Apostle. Amhurst said when he started his project in 1970 that “God’s work was unfolding.”

Also unfolding was what would become a 37-year, on-again, off-again campaign by San Luis Obispo County code enforcement officers to force Roandoak to comply with building codes — efforts which to date have met little success. A large, two-story building housing dozens of Roandoak residents is not now permitted, and never has been, according to county officials.

Now those permitting endeavors have encountered some resistance from the residence home’s current operator, Joseph Goodwin, who also calls himself “The Apostle.” County enforcers tread lightly around Goodwin, according to neighbors.

But that doesn’t work for Carrie Burton, who with her husband owns a small ranch adjacent to the Roandoak facility. She has witnessed for years, she said recently, the impotent attempts by county officials to bring Roandoak into compliance with regulations, and she fears that complete capitulation by frustrated code enforcement officials is imminent. And recent comments by some of those county officers appear to lend credence to Burton’s suspicions.

“The only difference between what is happening at Dan De Vaul’s place and here,” said Burton as she gazed from her kitchen window at the hodge-podge building complex next door jammed against her property, “is that this claims to be a ‘religious’ place.”

“Roandoak is an admittedly illegal, non-permitted land use with thirty-plus years of expired permits and non-met conditions,” she wrote in an e-mail to County Supervisor Jim Patterson. “The county’s own building code says [Roandoak] should be deemed a new project, with today’s codes, standards and permits.” She said the county is presently insisting that Roandoak is “a single-family residence with a single kitchen.”

Not true, said Burton: “It is an illegal, two-story dormitory with more than 30 people using inadequate sewage facilities (and with) known electrical and foundation problems, little heat, and an illegal kitchen.”

County records and newspaper reports show that Roandoak properties have been scheduled for demolition on numerous occasions over the past four decades, but no such action involving the two-story building has occurred. For at least seven years, the county district attorney was involved, but that interest apparently ended in 1979.

Burton noted she turned to Patterson after receiving what she calls “no help” from the supervisor in whose district she and Roandoak reside, Chairman Bruce Gibson.

Roandoak charges its residents $500 to $600 a month, according to its Web site. The group also maintains two Morro Bay houses in residential areas, each providing for about 10 tenants at similar monthly assessments.

Roandoak’s current building permit problems mirror a long history of similar conflicts with the county. A 1972 headline from the Sun-Bulletin heralded, “Religious commune given month to clean up land.” For more than a year, controversy intensified in the Morro Bay community about Roandoak, its owners, its religious claims, and its fight with county officials.

The property’s use became a subject of gossip almost from its inception as a refuge for life’s unfortunate. After proclaiming himself a minister, Amhurst and his wife, Rachel, dedicated their home and rural property on Chorro Creek Road to serve what they called “the losers of our society: the drug addicts alcoholics, ex-convicts, emotionally and mentally troubled, unemployed, homeless, down-and-out, misfits, and rejects.”

When county enforcement officials first responded to the property in August 1972 to investigate neighbors’ complaints, they found “members of the commune sleeping in tents, campers, a barn, and old parakeet shacks.”

A stop order was issued to Amhurst, requiring him to get a conditional use permit (CUP) before proceeding with construction of the two-story building.

“We’re not worried about getting the permit, because God will do whatever is right,” he told a reporter then. God works in mysterious ways, because supervisors first denied the permit, then approved it. But the permit was never acted upon. In the meantime, the complex has grown, and Goodwin and his family have fashioned residences on the property — none built with permits.

So the Burtons have non-permitted residential structures on two sides of their small acreage. She said that when they purchased the property, they were told the adjacent buildings were illegal and would be torn down.

Harley Voss, the county’s chief enforcement inspector, suggested in a recent e-mail to Burton that Roandoak will be declared legal, non-conforming, a status that would ease pressures on Roandoak’s existing buildings.

Voss wrote that under existing California law, the county’s options are limited.

Citing a portion of the state’s building code, Voss wrote that “any structure existing on the date of the adoption of this code shall be permitted to continue without change.” If alterations to the structure are not made, owners “are not required to comply with code requirements for a new structure.”

Burton and her neighbors are not just unhappy with alleged code violations. She worries about Roandoak residents who stand by the property border and snap photographs of her children as part of a campaign of what she calls “ongoing intimidation.” And she is concerned that the area’s well water supply has been polluted by leakage from faulty and non-permitted septic systems used by Roandoak.

That concern was justified in a December 2008 letter from the California Department of Public Health, noting that the quality of water coming from the six wells surrounding the Chorro Creek Road properties rendered it unfit for human consumption.

The DPH has ordered Morro Bay city officials to shut down all but one of the wells and keep them closed until a feasible method of purification can be found.

Voss said the main difference between Roandoak’s owners and De Vaul “is that one property owner is cooperative and the other is not. The commonality is that adjoining property owners are unhappy with uses by the two groups.”

Voss, who has been assigned to the Roandoak matter for only about three months, likened the Roandoak situation to that of “a frat house.”

Goodwin, said Voss, purports to have a commune-type of house where everyone pays a portion of the rent and support one another, so it qualifies as a single-family residence. Roandoak is not, as far as we can determine, a rehab type of facility.”

He said that a county permit for the dormitory was granted in 1972, but it expired, as did two other building permits issued by the county since then.

“And that’s where we sit today. I know there are some concerns about Roandoak. But did Roandoak pollute those wells? I don’t know. If anyone can draw a line that shows that… but I don’t know anyone who can.”

Goodwin is working “with our building department to reactivate the permits” [for the dormitory], said Voss.

The county official was asked by a reporter if it seems odd that for nearly 40 years, the Roandoak structure has been allowed to exist without county sanction?

“Yes, it does. It seems to me like this should be a very simple process, and it probably needed a little more baby sitting in the past,” Voss said. “Our planning permit process has evolved a lot in the past nine years. I’d like to believe that when the building permit [for Roandoak’s dorm] is applied for, it will have a relatively short shelf life.”

Voss paused. “But should this have taken 40 years? I think not.”

In the meantime, Burton is reported to have testified before the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury on the issue, although she declined comment on any participation with that panel. She also has been subpoenaed to testify as early as this week for the defense in De Vaul’s nuisance abatement trial.

NEXT: Getting to know Joseph Goodwin, The Apostle of Roandoak


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Member Opinions:

By: George on 5/8/09

The county could condemn, create a nature study center. just like zzyzyx.

The name Zzyzx was given to the area in 1944 by Curtis Howe Springer, claiming it to be the last word in the English language. Springer made up the word's pronunciation. He established the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa in 1944 at the spot, which was federal land, after filing mining claims for 12,000 acres (49 km2) surrounding the springs. He used the springs to bottle his water and provide drinks for travelers through the hot desert. Springer also imported animals from around the country to attract more families to visit his ranch. He used Zzyzx until 1974, when he was arrested by the United States Marshals for misuse of the land as well as alleged violations of food and drug laws, and the land was reclaimed by the government.

Since 1976, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed California State University to manage the land in and around Zzyzx. A consortium of CSU campuses use it as their Desert Studies Center.

By: soca on 5/7/09

Hmm. Usually when journalists try to be objective in a story, they get all sides then print. Where is the interview with the county and with Goodwin? It's May now and this story still doesn't have a follow up. Sounds to me that Mr. Dan and Ms. Carrie might have an agenda.

By: mbactivist on 3/7/09

It is my understanding that the building is quite unsafe. I understand there is documentation proving that it failed a fire safety inspection almost 20 years ago, and the fixes required by the fire inspectors were never made – which does not bode well for the residents. The fact that they are poor does not mean they should have to live in unsafe conditions.

In addition, the place has asbestos siding that is disintegrating, also a health hazard, and the electrical system is known to have problems. At present, the place does not appear to even have indoor plumbing, as there as there are now chemical toilets adjacent to the structure.

If, indeed, the owners have rented houses in Morro Bay, it would seem far safer for the current Roandoak residents, as well as financially feasible for the owner, to rent more houses and provide the current Roandoak residents with safer housing. One would think that at $500 a month per person, the Roandoak owners could place four or five persons in each house and still come out ahead.

As to whether such a house would be a single family home, I don't think occupants have to all be related, but I believe there may be maximum occupancies for dwelling units based on other factors – health and safety, perhaps. If the rumors that some of the existing house residents are living in the houses' garages are true, that could be an issue.

By: Myself on 3/7/09

Roandoak Church of God has been nothing but a problem since the inception, drugs and alcohol ran rampant in the 70's, all that place was,was a spot for burnt out druggies of the 60's and their kids to crash, the trash we had all around Morro Bay from this place was discusting, bums on the stret corners panhandling and junk cars and pickups with the roandoak cross painted on them everywhere, Galab did nothing but create a problem where none excisted garbage all over the property junk vehicles of all kinds and illegal buildings, nothing but an eyesore, people were stealing, busted for drugs this place was nothing but a commune, and Galab was a the biggest problemn there, he was a pedophile, sure the city and county took people there,there was no place for them to go so they got dumped at Roandoak, they should have been taken to jail then and put on work crews.

Today the place is much cleaner the last two managers have cleaned the trash and garbage out, but that still doesn't leave them with the ok to have non conforming buildings and a commune type setting, family living is how they are trying to get away with this a s a single family, is the county blind this is BS, the septic systems are not up to code and need to be brought up now, the place needs to be condemded and everyone vacated until this is fixed, there are rules and regs for buildings and sewers and nothing here is done properly hiding behind the cloak is not the answer, and the city of MB must be asleep on the other two houses that house 10 people each at $500, that is non conforming also, to have a single family home I would think that all the residents would need to be related, what a sham.

By: mbactivist on 3/4/09

Actually, it made a lot of sense to a lot of people, but maybe one needs to be familiar with the situation to pick up on the implications of all the issues that were mentioned. I'm sure that lucky2 could expand on any of them, but to me, the ones regarding fact that 29 neighbors have complained, and the fact that the neighbors have been threatened are the most interesting.

By: Matty on 3/4/09

Wow, Lucky2, there is this thing called "GRAMMAR". You really should check it out.

That made no sense.

By: lucky2 on 3/4/09

Attorney up! But who do you sue?- "The Apostle" aka the recorded producer, aka Crossfire Dealer, or the son of the Apostle, who buys and sells cars cheap and claims he is a "European Mechanic" with "2 shops in town". The only thing foreign is the truth. 29 neighbors complain- all are afraid due to threats. Yep! 2 are the ones talking to the County who is responsible for that place. That property needs to REALLY help people by selling it and going to the SLO county homeless, not the self nominated Chief Exec. Officer who swooped in when Bill Wolfe was thrown in jail for drugs- Funny, the new articles of incorporation have been changed by the Apostle, giving the Apostle all the power to make desciions over the property- I believe that corporate take over is fraud- Keep writing Mr. Blackburn good job! Can't wait for more. The truth is documented.

By: mbactivist on 3/4/09

Nope, not pathetic, and not the neighbor or the author – just someone who knows a lot about what is REALLY going on. I would not be at all surprised, however, if a couple of recent posters were Goodwin's close associates – or maybe one of them is even the man himself. Their messages sound suspiciously familiar. They can keep carrying on and insulting those who tell the truth, but there is a great deal of well-documented evidence that cannot be denied – and WILL come out.

By: Matty on 3/2/09

I bet "mbactivist" is the "Neighbor". Get a hobby or something mbactivist. You sound pathetic.

By: Matty on 3/2/09

I know these guys and I would say that 95% of the claims in this article are complete BS. Joseph Goodwin (Who I have never heard call himself the Apostle) took over the former Roandoak from Bill Wolfe, and has spent countess hours and a large sum of money to clean up the property from the last 30 plus years of neglect from previous owners. Its sad that Dan has tried to make them look like crazy religious extremists, I would think that he would have more integrity than to lie to get a story.

From what I know they are in the process of getting their final inspection after recently being zoned a single family residence. From what I have heard their "neighbor" has tried every angle she can to intimidate them out of the neighborhood. She supposedly has told numerous lies to county agencies to get them to inspect.

I guess the question is what is the "neighbors final goal"? Will she be happy if they get their final, or rebuild? Or will she only be happy if she accomplishes running them out of the neighborhood?

Good Luck Roandoak

By: paperboy on 3/2/09

Roandoak is no longer in business. The name is now Chorro Creek Ranch.

The county's actions here are fine with me. Chorro Creek Ranch is a savior for local people. It helps them get off the streets and into a healthy and sober living environment with a roof over their heads.

Joseph has done a great job cleaning up the place and the people who live out there are putting their lives back together. They deserve our support not scorn.

Truth is, if the county inspected all buildings over 30 years old, they'd find most have code violations. Does that mean we should raze all the old buildings or force them to be brought up to code, when the codes get changed every year?

And what difference would that make? Bringing that building up to code would not affect the mission of the organization. The neighbors would still be faced with having ''people'' living in a commune-like setting in their backyards. Do you really think that would appease them?

The neighbors should learn to live with their neighbors, after all, the CCR/Roandoak has been there for decades, going back to when it was all alone on Chorro Creek Road.

What's funny, is that for years, the local Sheriff's deputies and MBPD would take homeless people out to Roandoak to get a roof over their heads and a hot meal in them. That practice goes back long before the SLO homeless shelter was built.

Now all they do is take them to County Jail, where their freedom is taken away along with their dignity and taxpayers foot the bill.

Roandoak went through Devaul-like tribulations in the 1990s over people sleeping in old campers and trailers. Eventually, disaster struck and one guy was burned to death when his trailer caught fire. That brought out the county code enforcement and county fire marshals who got the trailers cleaned out of there. Compared to DeVaul's ranch, this looks like paradise.

By: onesome on 3/2/09

it is not selective enforcement, how about you check the number of complaints. Who is this person responding, the author of the article? You keep mentioning a serioies of articles and what will come in subsequent articles. Quit trying to pump your ego, loser.

By: mbactivist on 2/28/09

There are some important facts about Roandoak that the public needs to know, and I am sure they will come out in the subsequent articles. It is entirely possible they will end up helping DeVaul, whom I believe is a good and sincere man who should get the County's help and support to fix up his place. The key words are "selective enforcement"

By: onesome on 2/27/09

There was no assumption of anything considering there are no facts yet. Throwing someone under the bus (whether they get negative attention from code enforcers or not) is still wrong. The article could simply state what is going on with De Vaul and leave Roandoak out of it.

By: mbactivist on 2/26/09

Please don't assume that Roandoak is being picked on until you get all the facts. Many people are very much on DeVaul's side, yet NOT on the side of those running Roandoak. I suspect that the next article in the series will shed a lot of light.

By: onesome on 2/25/09

Nice Cal Coast News, why did you have to sell out on Roandoak just to get a story. Now you are drawing attention to them so maybe now that can go through what De Vaul is going thorugh. Hurting someone else to get a news story really sucks! No donations from here!

By: mccdave on 2/25/09

Well, I wasn't aware of the Christine Mulholland angle until now.

Booty Juice is a national treasure, though he's usually more colorful on subjects involving the north county. (And the presence of DeVaul Ranch well below the Grade does conflict with his worldview.)


to Use it or Lose it: This is just typical of Booty Juice. If anything worthwhile came out of ANY of his/her blogs – well Hell would freeze over!

By: Use_it_or_Lose_it on 2/24/09

– I understand this news venue is for adults. I believe that adolescents such as the first poster should always be screened for appropriateness. There is no need for vulgarity on this blog and I find it very distracting from any point that might have been made.