De Vaul may lose control of his ranch

San Luis Obispo rancher Dan De Vaul, who has long been at odds with the county over housing homeless people on his ranch, is on the brink of losing custodianship of his property because he hasn’t complied with county codes, according to lawyers for the county.

But De Vaul contends that he has met terms of a court order that includes moving tenants out of illegal buildings and supplying safe drinking water on his 72-acre ranch.

The longstanding battle between the county and De Vaul — who operates a nonprofit sober living program called Sunny Acres — took another contentious step Thursday before Judge Charles S. Crandall.

The two sides disagree over whether De Vaul is meeting the terms of Crandall’s court order requiring him to maintain his property according to health and safety laws.

On Oct. 20, the county is expected to argue for the court to appoint a receiver who would oversee the progress of De Vaul’s compliance while forcing him to foot the bill of cleaning up his property.

But De Vaul counters that he has met legal terms as he works toward permitting for a new 14-room housing unit for his sober living program.

De Vaul fears that a receivership could force a lien on his Los Osos Valley Road property and, in a worst case scenario, lead to the sale of his ranch.

“The extent to which the county will lie to try to do me in is astonishing,” De Vaul said outside of court. “They’re flat out making things up because I don’t bow down to them.”

De Vaul has long argued that he provides a valuable service to the county by taking in homeless people as well as alcohol- and drug-addicted tenants who otherwise live by “the crick” where they’re more susceptible to harm around a community of substance abusers.

He said seven people who used to stay at his ranch now live by the creek in downtown San Luis Obispo.

But the county, after inspections, claims that De Vaul has kept people in illegal dwellings, failed to provide safe drinking water after wells were found to be contaminated, and has not properly addressed illegal barn conditions — all of which De Vaul has denied.

In addition, county lawyer Rita Neal said that the county will ask for attorney’s fees to cover the costs of litigating the case against De Vaul, which haven’t been calculated yet.

Eighteen people still live at Sunny Acres as part of the sober living program in approved housing, down from about 30 before the order, De Vaul said.