SLO County alleges code violations at DeVaul’s Sunny Acres property

June 24, 2021

Sunny Acres sober living dining hall

During an inspection of San Luis Obispo Dan DeVaul’s property on Wednesday, county staff found obvious violations, a SLO County official said. [Tribune]

DeVaul’s 72-acre ranch lies on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo and contains his Sunny Acres sober-living facility. Sunny Acres houses and provides sober-living services to several dozen low-income residents, many of whom could otherwise face homelessness.

Amid a previous spat between the county and DeVaul, a 2011 order from a local judge forced the rancher to evict effectively homeless individuals who were deemed to have been staying in non-code compliant structures. Sunny Acres later went into receivership, and then in 2013, DeVaul and the county entered into a stipulated agreement requiring the rancher to comply with various regulations in order to continue his operation.

In recent months, neighbors made complaints to the county about Sunny Acres. Subsequently, last month, a county official penned a letter to DeVaul stating it suspected individuals are living in non-permitted structures on his property and that non-permitted dumping and grading activity were reportedly occurring near wetlands and Laguna Lake.

On Friday, the county obtained a civil inspection warrant. Then Wednesday morning, code enforcement officers and sheriff’s deputies went onto the property.

During the inspection, officials walked through about a dozen tiny homes. When asked if they found any violations or non-permitted structures, Jon Ansolabehere, SLO County’s chief deputy county counsel, said yes.

It is pretty obvious. None of this stuff is permitted, Ansolabehere said while pointing at the tiny homes.

Officials plan to take an inventory of all noted violations and get in contact with DeVaul and ranch management about what the county believes requires immediate action, Ansolabehere said.

During Tuesday’s SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, Johnny Rodriguez, the program director for Sunny Acres, spoke during public comment, saying the sober-living facility helps people who have no other means of support. The residents would otherwise be in the streets, under bridges, in creeks, in parks or in jail, Rodriguez said.

A total of 48 people, many of whom are elderly, infirm, mentally ill and in various stages of recovery, could be out on the streets soon, Rodriguez said. The Sunny Acres program director added there is no history of violence or chaos at the ranch, so the prospect of residents being left homeless is mind-boggling.

Rodriguez, along with construction manager David Dieter, answered questions from inspectors on Wednesday. Both arrived at the ranch battling addiction or alcoholism and worked their way up into management positions.

On Wednesday, Dieter said many Sunny Acres residents did not understand why armed officers were walking around the property, nor were they aware of the lengthy history between the county and the ranch. Many of the residents fear they will be moved off the property with nowhere to go, putting in jeopardy the routines that support their sobriety.

Residents have made construction improvements over the past four years, including to the main residential building and a new bathroom and shower facility, the construction manager said. Dieter, however, admitted he lives illegally in a trailer on the property.

The main residential building, too, is not properly permitted because Sunny Acres has been unable to bring potable water into the structure, DeVaul has said. DeVaul has sought to connect the building to the city of San Luis Obispo’s water system and was reportedly refused service. Thus far, individuals living in the building have been using bottled water.


I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.


Dan has a LONG history of skirting the rules out there, and the County has a long memory also. There are no angels here in this story. The “residents” pay something to stay there, have to work and abide by Dan’s rules. His system seems to work for the residents. I agree, as long as no one is being harmed, leave DeVaul alone. BUT , Dan also likes to move dirt and junk and creates quite an “eyesore” for some of his neighbors. He just invites this sort of attention. BUT the County should NOT , under any circumstances, worsen the situation by throwing these really vulnerable folks out on the street. Dan, clean up the junk, neighbors settle down, County, back off.


Herein lies the real problem-

In recent months, neighbors made complaints to the county about Sunny Acres.

No one lives within a quarter mile of De Vaul ranch.

Congratulations to the more fortunate for having a 5000 square foot roof over your head

and an amazing view of Cerro San Luis, none of this would be happening without

your kindness and healing hearts.


Gummint requirements and permit fees are both way too high. And for a place like this I think there should be many exceptions to accommodate those who are perfectly fine with ‘less then ideal’ construction. In fact most rules drive us into soul less boring places with no heart.

The county should just make sure the places are relatively safe and get the hell out.

What happened to our local gummint helping us to achieve our goals? They always have and continue to throw roadblocks at us.


This is a huge problem in many areas of California. We have a staggering homeless problem that the government is incapable of fixing. Dan tries to help but the government uses their numerous rules and regulations to try to shut him down. How about instead of wasting resources to inspect Sunny Acres the government used the money to build homeless encampment areas. Not the multi-million dollar homeless campus, but a low cost area for the homeless. Create a rule that allows places like Sunny Acres to exist. By the way Sunny Acres is superior housing to some of the dumps I lived in while attending college, and it did me no harm.


Dan should convert the ranch into a facsimile of a culvert next to the 101 or the Venice Beach boardwalk. Then the government won’t bother him.


Given the current state of homelessness in SLO it’s clear to see why the powers that be would think it would be in the best interest of all involved to kick people with a roof over their head out to live on the streets. That should be good for the sobriety and mental health of the residents…

Good job government officials, we can always count on you to help!


Two issues, Dan tries to do the right thing, but can’t help but being a scofflaw when doing it:)

But the larger picture is that most affordable housing in this County do not meet current Planning & Building Standards!!! Many are legal non-conforming uses or structures that could not be replicated to meet current standards!!!

Growing up here in a very small house, when I became a teenager, my parents parked grandmas old airstream in the backyard so that I would have a bedroom, if you did that today, you would have code enforcement and a swat team pounding on your door:(

Jorge Estrada

Certainly there can be a tailored set of standards for formalized accommodations such as Sunny Acres. What we see along the Freeways and Stream beds are not compliant with any Local, State or Federal standards. Maybe it’s time to have the City of SLO wrap around the mountain and provide water to Sunny Acres under a pre-existing non-conforming use. This would protect Sunny Acres as well as the opportunity to purchase another everything conforming site in the distant future.


In the State of California to be a pre-existing non-conforming use, the use had to lawfully established at conception of said use!

Most people don’t realize, there is no such thing as a Grandfathered use or structure in any California code!!!

Jorge Estrada

For non-conforming people with pre-existing conditions that have been ignored by society for many years, slaughtering them is not the answer. Whether it be by choice or predisposition, our world can afford them Sunny Acres, with certain concessions, within the mindset of the American Disability Act, especially when the facility is a privately funded institution. Again, I’m only suggesting a palatable solution because that will be the only choice.