A decade-long battle with the county behind them, San Luis Obispo rancher Dan De Vaul and the residents of Sunny Acres are looking toward the future.
If all goes according to plan, that future includes a new residential sober-living facility on the 72-acre ranch along Los Osos Valley Road on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo. The 8,000-square-foot facility will have 14 bedrooms and six bathrooms and will be Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant.
“It’s coming together, and we’re doing everything we can with what we can get,” De Vaul said.
Though the lion’s share of work on the building is nearing its end, the project is far from complete.
The nonprofit’s board of directors is looking for help in funding the final phases of the project so that it can continue to provide drug and alcohol treatment and work skills training to its clients, many of whom have meager incomes and stand little chance of succeeding in traditional sobriety programs.
De Vaul, 72, the program founder and owner of the ranch, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees — and even a short stint in San Luis Obispo County Jail — defending the future of the program, which served about 84 people last year, according to the nonprofit.
On the ranch, clients farm and sell produce and other goods, all while attending regular Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings held on-site. They stay connected with counseling, mental health services and peer guidance. Those served there are mostly people who are ineligible for other local programs or have otherwise not found help in them.
“Every program has parameters, and with some you wait and you never know when you’ll be selected. At Sunny Acres, we’re not that formal,” De Vaul said. “When someone applies to Sunny Acres, the main thing you have to have is an attitude that you’re going to help yourself to get ahead.”
De Vaul started the treatment center in 2001 and soon drew the enmity of neighbors and county code enforcement officers for its allegedly sub-par conditions and multiple code violations, including housing people in sheds and a dairy barn.
But in April 2013, De Vaul and the county reached an agreement to a lawsuit De Vaul filed against the county in 2009, allowing him to construct the house as long as it complies with all county codes and regulations.
In exchange, the county agreed to waive a number of building fees as long as the facility focuses on servicing low-income clients.
“Things were looking pretty bleak back then,” De Vaul said. “I’m really surprised at the help from the community. And I’m really surprised the county came forward and allowed us a little leeway.”
Since the settlement, the nonprofit’s board of directors reorganized, with De Vaul stepping down so that he could focus on managing the program as its director of operations and continue to oversee daily activities and construction.
In 2014, he began leasing all 72 acres to the nonprofit for $1,000 a month, a bill the nonprofit has recently been able to pay regularly, said organization treasurer Judie Najarian.
San Luis Obispo attorney John Belsher took over as president of the now-seven-member board to focus on administrative tasks and fundraising efforts.
Progress on the new facility took a collaborative effort of governmental and community stakeholders that extended beyond the boundaries of the ranch, Belsher said.
The program’s clients received on-the-job training by framing the building themselves under the direction and supervision of Thom Brajkovich, project architect with San Luis Obispo-based Paragon Designs, along with local contractor Mike Cronin and De Vaul.
On Aug. 21, roofing materials donated by R & S Supply of Grover Beach arrived and were loaded onto the top of the structure. A crew from Quaglino Roofing in San Luis Obispo began the installation free of charge. As of Friday, the roofing was nearly half installed.
Quaglino declined to provide a cost estimate for the donated roofing materials and labor but said he and a number of donors recognize the work as a worthy investment in their community.
The framing and electrical wiring wrapped up in late June. Construction will continue on the interior of the home, with installation of sheet rock, drywall and plumbing. Najarian said those tasks, as well as the need for appliances and other fixtures, can easily push the cost upwards of $100,000.
A new well will need to be dug, and a septic system must be installed. That could easily be another $100,000, Najarian said, not to mention about $30,000 needed for rooftop solar panels.
“We have always tried to keep our fundraising to a minimum,” De Vaul said. “But now, there really is a justified need for us to ask the community for help.”
How you can help Sunny Acres
People interested in making tax-deductible donations can do so by sending or dropping off a check to the Sunny Acres business office at 10660 Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo. A donation receipt will be returned.
For those looking to help in other ways, the nonprofit is also seeking special items such as a computer; men’s work boots and jeans; bath, kitchen and paper towels; rugs; twin bed sheets; and blankets.
“If somebody has the means to make a (tax-deductible) donation, we could sure as hell use it and really appreciate it,” De Vaul said.
More information about Sunny Acres, making a donation and volunteering opportunities can be found at www.sunnyacresca.com or by calling 543-4918.