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Little leniency for DeVaul 

Dan DeVaul, the usually unflappable rancher and founder of Sunny Acres sober living facility, was literally hat in hand as the County Board of Supervisors talked about how to handle seven code violations lodged against him.

click to enlarge THIS IS THE STORY :  Faces at the supervisors recent meeting include, clockwise from top left, ranch owner Dan DeVaul, Chief County Code Inspector Art Trinidade, Code Inspector Marie Cowan, and John Belsher, DeVaul’s attorney. - PHOTOS COLLAGE BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS COLLAGE BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • THIS IS THE STORY : Faces at the supervisors recent meeting include, clockwise from top left, ranch owner Dan DeVaul, Chief County Code Inspector Art Trinidade, Code Inspector Marie Cowan, and John Belsher, DeVaul’s attorney.

In the end, he had good reason to worry. At their July 22 meeting,

the supervisors showed few signs of leniency in a nuisance abatement hearing that DeVaul had hoped would be a forum for some outside-the-box thinking about how to allow his ranch, and in particular the nonprofit he founded, to co-exist with neighbors who have grown increasingly outspoken about its condition.

Instead, supervisors remained firmly in the box, holding tight to the notion of enforcing strict deadlines by which DeVaul must clear his ranch of motorhomes, recreational vehicles, stored cars, parked commercial vehicles, tires, and other debris that code officials say violate county rules.

 In particular, they told DeVaul:

• By Aug. 30 he’ll have to close a roadside stand that sells produce and nursery items, because the code officials believe less than half of the products are grown on the ranch.

• By Sept. 30 he’ll have to remove dozens of commercial and personal vehicles, several mobile homes and recreational vehicles.

• He’ll have to decide by Dec. 1 whether to demolish a barn that Sunny Acres residents converted into housing, or go through the county’s potentially costly permitting process to bring it into code. In the meantime, it has been condemned and has been boarded up for months.

DeVaul’s attorney John Belsher said DeVaul planned to seek permission from the state to get the building approved as housing for agricultural workers, a process he said would supercede the county’s codes.

County code investigator Marie Cowan led off the hearing with a photographic tour documenting the specific charges against DeVaul.

Belsher led off DeVaul’s defense with his own photos showing the many parts of the ranch that have been cleaned in recent months. He said that many of the specific code accusations—such as whether sales of products at the stand meet the half-ranch-grown requirement—fall into a gray area of the law.

And he specifically questioned the county’s position that people are only allowed to have two personal vehicles stored on their property, noting that thousands of people in the county would likely be out of compliance if that’s the enforced rule.

But even Belsher never claimed DeVaul is in compliance with the codes, asking instead for more time and a timetable that would allow Sunny Acres residents to do much of the needed work as part of their treatment.

Supervisors, however, generally appeared tired of DeVaul’s issues, noting that many of the matters mirrored those they dealt with in a similar hearing in 2005.

While about 20 people appeared at the hearing to back DeVaul—most of them pointing out that the county itself doesn’t offer residential treatment of the sort DeVaul provides through Sunny Acres—another 10 or so appeared or spoke to encourage the county to enforce its codes.

One of them was San Luis Obispo City Councilwoman Christine Mulholland, who said DeVaul’s property has gotten worse, not better, since he made specific pledges to clean it up in 2005.

“Yes, the junk piled up,” allowed former Sunny Acres board chairwoman Judy Najarian. “He was busy doing other things, like helping humans.”

In all, DeVaul has three separate processes moving forward. He’s contesting another series of code violations in court, and on July 24, he was set to answer to misdemeanor criminal charges that essentially mirror those dealt with by the supervisors.

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