If San Luis Obispo rancher Dan De Vaul wants fees waived on his proposals for expanding his sober-living facility, he must prove to county supervisors that he is indeed providing the service he claims to be providing.
Supervisors, who over the years have expressed irritation, anger and weariness in their interactions with the irascible — and, some say, intractable — De Vaul, on Tuesday demonstrated outright mistrust.
At a hearing during which De Vaul was seeking fee waivers on improvements he wants to make at his 72-acre ranch and sober-living facility at 10660 Los Osos Valley Road, supervisors questioned him closely about the services he gives.
De Vaul’s Sunny Acres nonprofit takes care of homeless and addicted people, providing counseling and other services. He asks them to pay $300 a month for room and board if they are able, and many work on his ranch to ease or eliminate the payment.
His help for the county’s homeless has brought him considerable public support and has provided him with an apparent moral high ground from which to fight county code enforcement officers’ many attempts to bring his ranch and its facilities up to code.
De Vaul’s oft-stated argument — that having the homeless sleep in out-of-code facilities is a lot better than having them sleep down by “the crick,” as he puts it — has made sense to many of his supporters, who see the confrontation as a battle between humanity and bureaucracy.
However, Supervisor Bruce Gibson and his colleagues Tuesday questioned the basis for that framework.
Gibson said he wants evidence that Sunny Acres is providing a public benefit. Specifically, he asked for tax returns to be shown to the county annually, and that De Vaul document its clientele: how many there are, for example, and what rents they pay.
Supervisor Frank Mecham said, “I need to see reassurances that something is going to happen” on De Vaul’s ranch.
Chairman Adam Hill said the struggle with De Vaul has been a “decades-long saga,” adding that it has been “a struggle to get Mr. De Vaul to honor his commitments.”
De Vaul was in the audience during this discussion, but said nothing. His attorney, John Belsher, spoke about the permits, but not the inquiries about Sunny Acres paperwork.
Should De Vaul do all that Gibson and the board ask and comply with other conditions, the county will discuss whether to waive his building permit fees, supervisors decided.
Among other requirements: De Vaul must comply with an existing court order, which requires him to fix up several problems on the ranch, including contaminated water and unsafe living facilities.
The board’s decision does not expel homeless people or addicts, nor does it mean that he can’t go forward with his plans. It merely puts off a decision on when and how he can proceed.
The board deferred further action until Oct. 17.
Former San Luis Obispo City Councilwoman Christine Mulholland — who lives on property facing the ranch — testified against waiving De Vaul’s fees. She said De Vaul has been breaking the law for years and continues to do so.