Rancher chooses jail over displacing homeless

November 23, 2009
Dan De Vaul at Sunny Acres

Dan De Vaul


Rancher Dan De Vaul was led away in handcuffs this morning after electing to go to jail for 90 days rather than accept San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge John Trice’s offer of five years of probation.

De Vaul, who will also pay a $1,000 fine, told a packed courtroom that he simply could not abandon the residents of Sunny Acres who needed a place to live.

“I am willing to go to jail to keep people in places that are not to code,” De Vaul said. “If I take probation, they can come out the next day and say ‘throw the people out or we can arrest you for probation violations.’”

De Vaul’s attorney Jeff Stulberg asked those in the courtroom who would not have a place to sleep or food to eat without De Vaul to raise their hands. About 20 people did so.

Trice asked De Vaul to accept the county’s terms of probation, which included removing all but two vehicles from the property, removing mobile homes, allowing searches of the property, and forcing people living in the mobile homes or storage units to vacate.

Inside the dining hall

Inside the dining hall

De Vaul refused the judge’s request and was subsequently arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail.

“If Mr. De Vaul is wanting to go to jail, the county has no choice but to accommodate him,” said San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Craig VanRooyen. “If he goes to jail, it is because he wants to go to jail.”

County condemed dining hall

County condemned dining hall

VanRooyan contended that De Vaul’s refusals to work with the county and clean up his property had left them no choice. He asked De Vaul repeatedly to accept probation, work with the county and comply with government codes.

De Vaul runs Sunny Acres, a clean and sober living facility, on his ranch on Los Osos Valley Road just outside San Lios Obispo’s city limits. He has housed between 30 to 75 low income and homeless people on the 72 acre property at any given time over the past nine years.

Those who can afford the charges pay $300 a month for room and board. Indigent lodgers either work in the kitchen, garden the six-acre vegetable patch, fix old cars or chop wood for their keep.

In August, rental receipts totaled $3,500, of that approximately $1,500 went to utilities, insurance and supplies. In addition, De Vaul said he paid a total of $500 a week in wages to those residents who work for their rent at Sunny Acres.

“We cost taxpayers nothing,” De Vaul said. “We run this on a shoestring.”

For more than 10 years, three neighbors of the rusty vehicle-littered property, including former San Luis Obispo Councilwoman Christine Mulholland, have lodged complaints accusing De Vaul of code violations.

Garden sheds used as shelters

Garden sheds used as shelters

After Stulberg put out a press release questioning the county’s reasons for the July 23 raid of De Vaul’s property, Trice issued a gag order that silenced prosecutors, De Vaul’s attorneys and any possible witnesses. Trice’s highly unusual gag order has the honor of being the first ever issued in a misdemeanor case in San Luis Obispo County.

On Sept. 21, a jury found De Vaul guilty of fire and safety code violations when he converted a barn into a shelter. Combined, the two misdemeanors carry a fine of up to $1,000 and/or one year in county jail.

In October, Stulberg filed a motion for a new trial after a juror said she reluctantly agreed to vote guilty on the two counts after Trice reprimanded her and a fellow juror harassed her.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy disagreed with De Vaul’s lawyers’ arguments that misconduct by Trice had tainted the jury. After oral arguments, Duffy immediately began reading from a previously prepared statement, leading observers to believe he had written his decision before hearing arguments.

“I refused probation because the first rule of probation is you have to obey all laws,” De Vaul said. “We have places people are living in that are not to code. I do not want to kick them out.”

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All zoning laws and land use ordinances are about others (outsiders) banding together to restrict the uses of others property. It is how we keep the whorehouses out of the school zones.

The issue with these types of laws is there is a perspective issue between what is egregious nanny-stating and what is a valid community concern.

In the case of De Vaul, his actions have the additional contradiction doing public good on one hand (by caring for people the county cannot, or will not, and perhaps should not), and doing public harm on the other (by flaunting his disregard for the codes we all more or less live by.

If I were the judge, it sure would look to me like De Vaul is doing more good than harm.

I don’t know how Trice sleeps, and expect he hasn’t much in the past couple nights.

Another point on DeVaul. People like BootyJuice blog how bad the North County is. Well I have been here for 30 years. I have seen more self help housing done in the North County, than ever done in SLO. It has even been brought up in the past in the paper about the difference.

SLO likes to posture that they are so much better in helping the little man, then do NOTHING when it is time to help. This DeVaul case is just another example of lip service till it comes time to do the right thing. Which is NIMBY.

This is a waste of our taxes. Let’s go after a guy who’s biggest crime was to try and help some people down on their luck. Meanwhile the Gearharts, Hurst, EFI, Century 21 Fin. Heritage Bank, continue to go about business, without to much concern from the county. When the county treats these with the concern they have shown for DeVaul, then I will believe their bulls**t. In the meantime the county is a bunch of Hypocrits!!!!

De Vaul made his bed, now he must sleep in it. He then chose to go to jail so why feel sorry for him?

True Dan is making a stand and showboating a bit. On the otherhand we taxpayers are spending a huge amount of money so Christne Mullholland and a bunch of Johnny come latelys can have a better view from there front porches. Mullhollands Minions will not rest until Sunny acres is leveled to the ground and a nice new sub division just like the one they built is put in on the land Dan used to own. This is largely a matter of aesthetics and property value disguised as a concern over county codes. The code violation issue is a scam, the excuse needed to run Dan out and take over the property. None of those people care if there are code violations on the property. They just want dans property leveled because its an eyesore to them and it hurts their property value. Even if Dan cleaned up all the violations these good folks would pay Gibson to think up another reason to run him out. In the meantime, we taxpayers continue to pay the big bucks to help a bunch of rich people try and improve their propery value. Again the only good thing in this is it marks the end of Mullhollands political career in this area and has damaged Gibson. (Both of whom i supported in the past)

Glad you decided that the issue is not the code violations but the eyesore. I was in court the day DeVaul’s attorney stated Dan had brought on over 350,000 yards of fill material without any permits. All anyone has asked if for Dan to follow the law. People who don’t are subject to the consequences.

I meant too bad that it WASN’T a farm labor camp.

Too bad Sunny Acre was a farm labor camp, nobody would have touched that one. Of course I’m sure that they are all up to code and have no violations. This whole episode is a joke. I’m sure Christine Mulholland anf friends are whopping it up tonight. Shame on them.

Oh, few ever thought Dan would get anything more than probation. I thought he’d get a very stern lecture but that was all. I was right.

Probably most disturbing is Dan’s statement: “I refused probation because the first rule of probation is you have to obey all laws.”

No one should be above the law, Dan.

This is an outrage by SLO County! Shame on the county!

Who/where can the funds be sent to pay the fine?

Yes, shame on the county for enforcing the law. I really wish the county would simply ignore the law so we could all become anarchists.

Shame on SLO County, it would cost less if the county had just done the repairs at the ranch. Could have been a win/win for everybody. But that would be too sane.

Eric Parkinson supposedly helps the homeless in SLO with all those thousands he solicits for VeAhavta. I think he should do what he claims to do (on his tax returns) and correct the code violations for DeVaul. He’s been claiming to assist the homeless in SLO for years and after all the hundreds of thousands he’s collected, he’s never done a thing for SLO, time to cough up some money Parkinson.