SLO County code enforcers to inspect Sunny Acres amid new spat with DeVaul

Sunny Acres in 2013 and in 2021

Eight years after San Luis Obispo rancher Dan DeVaul reached an agreement with SLO County over the operation of his Sunny Acres sober living facility, county code enforcers are set to inspect DeVaul’s property Wednesday in responce to a new batch of alleged violations. [Tribune]

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 DeVaul’s 72-acre ranch, which lies on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo. DeVaul’s ranch houses and provides sober-living services to dozens of low-income residents, many of whom could otherwise face homelessness. 

On Friday, the county obtained a civil inspection warrant. Now, with county officials alleging new code violations, enforcement officers are planning on entering DeVaul’s property Wednesday morning to conduct an inspection. 

Last month, a county official penned a letter to DeVaul stating it is suspected individuals are living in non-permitted structures on his property. It has also been reported that individuals are conducting non-permitted dumping and grading activity on the ranch near wetlands and Laguna Lake, the county stated. 

“Unfortunately, the health and safety situation on your property appears to have gotten worse since 2013, not better,” code enforcement supervisor Jill Coomer wrote in a May 25 letter to DeVaul. “Because of the significant public health and safety concerns regarding your property, which are just as true today as they were in 2013, the county must take action to remedy the situation, hopefully through your voluntary compliance.”

Under the terms of the 2013 agreement, DeVaul is prohibited from allowing individuals to live in non-permitted structures, sheds and RVs, and he must keep the property free from land use, building and health and safety violations, Coomer wrote in the letter. Sunny Acres has been unable to obtain necessary permits from SLO County Environmental Health, and it cannot be certified by the state because of poor water quality. 

Additionally, the county has received complaints about storage being trucked onto the property and dirt being dumped in excess of the allowable 2,000 cubic yards. A preliminary investigation conducted by the county revealed the amount of dumping and grading that has occurred over the past year is well in excess of that amount, Coomer stated. 

The Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Army Corp of Engineers have also expressed concerns over the dumping and its proximity to wetlands and Laguna Lake, Coomer wrote. 

SLO County’s investigation into the dumping led to the discovery of individuals living in non-permitted structures and that the amount of storage has significantly increased since 2013, the county alleges.

On Monday, DeVaul said he is currently out of town and will not be at the ranch on Wednesday. But, no one is going to try to stop the code enforcement officers from entering the property, DeVaul said. 

County code enforcement is unnecessary, and he is willing to work with officials, DeVaul said. He has to readjust what he is doing, and he willing to do that, the rancher said.

DeVaul said he has been trucking in dirt that is better for agriculture than the ranch’s soil, and he hired a biologist and a consultant to ensure regulatory compliance related to the nearby wetlands. He has not put one spoonful of dirt on the wetlands, DeVaul said. 

Sunny Acres has been unable to get potable water to the newer sober-living building because of a holdup in the permitting process, DeVaul said. Instead, residents have been using bottled water at the facility.

In a June 9 response to the county, Mallory Miller, of Atascadero-based Tiger Legal and Consulting, wrote DeVaul intends to be cooperative in resolving the county’s concerns, but the issues in Coomer’s letter are unfounded speculations that do not rise to the level of probable cause for a search warrant.