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Whose side are you on? 

It’s time to decide. Are you on the side of law and order or are you on the side of lawlessness and perversion? Codes or chaos? I realize which one sounds like more fun, but think again. Drink in a couple of cautionary tales first.

In this week’s New Times, we’re writing about two guys—I’m telling you, they sound like they could be related—who have managed to piss off, in the monarchical sense, the county code enforcers.

In the case of Dan DeVaul, you’ve likely heard a fair amount already. DeVaul, who runs an up-by-your-bootstraps sobriety center on Los Osos Valley Road outside of SLO, is alleged to have committed such crimes against the county as allowing formerly homeless people to sleep in lowly mobile homes, recreational vehicles, and in a barn that didn’t have the proper permits.

Can you imagine that? He put these folks through the indignity of sleeping in places without permits when he could have allowed them to sleep safely, blissfully in the mud of the creek? What a cad. Somebody should throw the book at him. Wait, they did.

By sheer numbers, most of the allegations code officials have filed against DeVaul have to do with junked cars, commercial vehicles, and debris; but the county code officials at the board of supervisors meeting stressed that they were most concerned with the health and safety of people. Sure. They’re so concerned they’d rather send the homeless and addicts anywhere but where they’re seen. Do people actually believe that it would be safer for these folks to live outdoors among the drunks and such, than in a recreational vehicle, whether the arrangement fits nicely into the code books or not?

And let’s be clear. They didn’t just file some charges and threaten him with action. This wasn’t about some paperwork. No, they want the guy in jail. They referred the cases to the District Attorney for criminal prosecution. And that’s before they even finished their regular process.

So it looks like the way this is headed is the various mechanisms of the law are conspiring to put him in jail and take his land when he can’t pay the county’s bill they’ll stick him with for cleaning up his land. Even a suit-wearing lawyer didn’t really help his case the other day at the Board of Supervisors. His lawyer did a pretty neat job of shredding through the code officer’s charges. Sure, he allowed, there’s junk out there, but he pointed out that the codes are damn ambiguous about exactly how much stuff you can have on a working farm.

The code officer, in a slick Powerpoint demonstration that efficiently whipped through the seven charges against DeVaul, pointed to a photo of the many cars that are still on the property and said, with a straight face, that people in the county are only allowed to have two vehicles stored outside. And by stored, she meant not driven for a couple of days at a time.

Well, when DeVaul’s attorney got to that point, he noted the code enforcers would have to round up pretty near everyone in the county if they actually intended to enforce their take on that ordinance which, he said, they’d misread anyway. When he said it, the attorney got relieved laughter from pretty near everyone in the place, even those there to oppose DeVaul. Have you ever left three vehicles parked outdoors on your property for more than a few days at a time? Well don’t admit it; you’ll end up in jail with DeVaul.

The other guy in the paper hasn’t quite gotten his ass in the wringer like DeVaul has, but he seems like he’s got the same winning attitude the county loves to stamp out.

Also in the paper, we’ve got a story about Bob Finley, who had the audacity to put something both odd and, worse, arty, on his property, right out where others can see it. Finley took a sweet 1971 white Jaguar and stuck it into the hillside to warn people to slow the hell down when they take a curve bordering his property.

Read the story and you’ll get the sense that that the county is looking for pretty near any excuse to get him, because at first they told him he had to move the car because it was on county right of way. Only then they learned it wasn’t.

So did that stop them? Course not. They’re with the county code enforcement. They get their man one way or another. So they decided the vintage car sticking its ass out of the side of the hill wasn’t a car anymore … it was a sign. And they say they can regulate it. Never mind that it doesn’t look like a sign, or have anything printed on it that would make you think it’s an advertisement for the nursery. It’s a sign, goddamnit, and so somebody’s going to have to pay.

Finley told the code officials he didn’t appreciate being threatened, and they responded by telling him that they hadn’t threatened him. Apparently they believe the letters they sent, that warned of $500-per-day fines and potential criminal prosecution, aren’t threats.

But Finley knows better than that. His hippy-dippy glasses still work. He may not know that a Jaguar is a sign, but he can read black and white. And he can certainly see what they’re doing to Dan DeVaul.

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