OPINION by OZZIE MILLER
A little over a month ago, Dan DeVaul’s Sunny Acres property was visited by a warden and biologist from the State Department of Fish and Wildlife. They accused Dan DeVaul of filling the wetland and ordered him to immediately stop and obtain a Streambed Alteration Permit or face criminal citations and civil penalties.
DeVaul retained a consultant who determined that actually all the fill was occurring well outside the wetland and in fact was outside of the jurisdiction of the State Department of Fish and Wildlife (SF&W) and the Army Corp of Engineers. Those two agencies were satisfied and asked him to install sedimentation and erosion control measures to prevent siltation. He immediately complied and retained a professional engineer to develop plans. He also installed anti-siltation devices even though we are well outside of the rainy season.
During the process of cooperating with the State and Federal agencies (Army Corps), DeVaul was copied on an email from a biologist who had been contracted by him to study the wetland and who drew the wetland and water level boundaries. The email showed that the individual who was inquiring about the fill and had informed SF&W and the Army Corps of Engineers was none other than Trevor Keith, Director of Planning and Building, not code enforcement or a private citizen.
Mr. DeVaul had to spend thousands of dollars for no reason at all since the fill was outside of jurisdictional boundaries and not a threat to the wetland. But Mr. Keith and his department were not done.
Finding that all was well with the agricultural grading, the next contact by the county was a letter from County Code Enforcement’s Jill Coomer demanding entry by a certain date in June (when Mr. DeVaul was out of town).
Mr. DeVaul sought assistance from a volunteer attorney who sent Ms. Coomer a letter advising her that Mr. DeVaul would be out of town on that date and to contact her when he returned in early July to schedule a voluntary inspection.
Instead, the county obtained an inspection warrant stating to a judge that Mr. DeVaul had refused the inspection and that there were extremely hazardous conditions that required their immediate attention and further requested that the warrant could be served without his presence.
It is our understanding that an inspection warrant would require two things, a refusal to comply with a request for inspection and owner presence during a warrant service. The agency will typically ask for no owner presence only if there is exigency and the threat of violence against the agency.
Not only did Mr. DeVaul agree to the inspection, asking only that they would wait for two weeks until he returned, but he is also an invalid, almost 80, ill, and moves around in a wheel chair.
The sheriff, probation and behavioral health (ironically a division of the same health department that has deemed the drinking water unpotable) are at the property on a weekly basis visiting sober living participants that their agencies have placed there.
There has never been a threat of violence. Despite knowing this, the county’s affidavit misled the judge to obtain this warrant. In addition, county code enforcement has known of the conditions at the property for over five years and has been approving the placement of 2,000 cubic yards of soil per year for several years now. There was nothing new, nothing different from a decade ago and certainly nothing exigent.
The county then sent a press release to the Tribune and served the illicitly sought warrant with a full team from code enforcement, the chief building official, Chief Deputy County Counsel Joh Anselobehere and several sheriff deputies.
A full month later they sent a Notice of Violation first to the Tribune and then to Mr. DeVaul on this supposedly exigent situation. Now violations of County Code are potentially criminal, and investigations are consequently conducted in confidence to protect the evidence, potential trials and ultimately the victim, if any, and the rights of the defendant.
For that reason, if you ask the county for information on an ongoing investigation, they will say that it is confidential. In this case however, they sent the notice of violation accompanied with a press release first to the Tribune, who published without ever contacting Mr. DeVaul for comment or the county for clarification (why would they need to, the article was written for them).
Mr. DeVaul later found a voice mail from the reporter on his cell phone from 4:45 p.m. the evening before the article came out, meaning that a few minutes before press deadline, the reporter decided to make a single effort to get both sides of the story, and failing that went to press anyway. Clearly the county and the Tribune collude well together with the latter being the willing lapdog of an over reaching and agenda driven county.
The County Planning Department under the direction of Trevor Keith is now demanding that the medically fragile individuals, who cannot be placed in any other facility (which is why many if not most have been placed at Sunny Acres by county departments) will be forced to wander the streets, creeks and bridges of San Luis Obispo in 30 days.
This letter came a full month after their emergency warrant. I hope the judge who signed it is furious that he was misled and takes punitive action against the affiant who swore to it and the lawyer who approved it.
It is important to understand that the county has created this problem.
Mr. DeVaul, and the nonprofit he founded, Sunny Acres, built a home to house these people with the help of some community donations and his own $50,000 loan. The 8,000 square foot home is paid for and was not built to make money. He lives in a tiny apartment above a barn and tries to raise money to feed and house the people at Sunny Acres by allowing clean fill to be brought in to grow the crops they sell and eat, for better pasture for their cattle operation, selling firewood, homegrown pumpkins and trinkets that are created at the ranch.
This augments the small fee charged by the nonprofit to those who can pay. Mr. DeVaul does all this because his conscience and those of the volunteers demand it. To help the weakest of the weak.
Mr. Keith and Ms. Coomer, along with county counsel, certainly with the permission of the SLO County Administrator Wade Horton, who works under the direction of the Board of Supervisors, are very good at showing up at ground breaking events for homeless shelters built at taxpayer’s expense, and excellent at speaking about the drug and alcohol problems. They are eloquent in their show of support for the homeless.
However, these very people are gleefully putting those very people out of their home and onto the street, going so far as to obtain illegal warrants, bringing in other agencies to try and hide their malfeasance and using every means to try and destroy what Mr. DeVaul and the nonprofit he founded have built at no cost to the taxpayer and county.
The only reason why the house has not received a final occupancy is because the SLO County Health Department deemed the water a public water source and so it has to meet higher standards than those homes up and down the Chorro Valley. Never mind the fact that all the potable water is purchased bottled water at Sunny Acres. They are adamant. Put in a million-dollar water treatment plant.
Of course, they could solve it by partnering with the City of San Luis Obispo to annex the property and serve it with municipal water. But despite all the properties between the city on the east and Foothill Boulevard on the west being in the sphere of influence for the past decade, the city has refused to act on annexation. Why?
The State of California has notified Mr. DeVaul and Sunny Acres that they do not want a water company formed for this ranch that has to be monitored monthly by the state and cost taxpayers more, when the ranch is right next to San Luis Obispo City. In fact, the State Regional Water Quality Control manager met with the county and city numerous times advising both that the state would pay for the infrastructure to hook up to the city. All of this effort fell on deaf ears in the city. Why?
These questions are good ones, especially since it is no secret that Mr. DeVaul is ailing and aged. Why this remarkable show of force and why now? Federal, state and local agencies converging on a nearly 80-year-old man to kick homeless people out of the only shelter available to them and alleging horrible violations to the flood plain that they have been allowing for years?
We are asking the professional and amateur journalists to dig deeper, not to just accept the county press releases and illegal leaks of confidential correspondence to the Tribune. Here is a clue. Follow the money. Someone is pulling the strings and it isn’t because it suddenly occurred to them that the people they happily placed at Sunny Acres are now in immediate danger.
Sunny Acres is a 501c(3) non-profit corporation that provides a peer to peer lead clean and sober living environment for people with various backgrounds, including homelessness, addiction, mental health challenges, incarceration, and more. Over the years, Sunny Acres has successfully worked with local law enforcement, probation, health and human services, and other agencies to provide a safe and healthy place to call home, especially when other options are unavailable. If you’re interested in learning more, please visit our website Sunny Acres – or call Ozzie Miller at (805) 703-4978.