San Luis Obispo rancher Dan De Vaul took the stand in court Thursday, detailing ways that he has been trying to comply with property codes that county planning and building officials allege he continues to violate against a judge’s order.
Several residents of De Vaul’s property took the stand as well to say that nobody is living in any unpermitted facilities on the 72-acre ranch.
At stake in the lawsuit filed by the county against De Vaul is the possibility that San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles S. Crandall could appoint a receiver who would oversee compliance with county code —potentially requiring modifications to the property that De Vaul says could cost him his ranch because of the expense.
The longtime owner and operator of the Sunny Acres sober living facility on a ranch on Los Osos Valley Road testified that he has demolished two bathrooms that weren’t permitted on his property and removed flooring on the second story of a stucco barn.
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De Vaul testified he has presented plans, sought permits and asked for clarification from the county on aspects of the code. But questions about the specificity of complying remain unanswered.
San Luis Obispo County Chief Building Inspector Cheryl Journey has testified in the ongoing hearing that an inspection of the property showed illegal conditions. Those included electrical hookups, plumbing, and food and furniture storage that don’t comply with code.
Journey also said mattresses and other items in a shed indicated human habitation.
But a handful of witnesses who are among the roughly 20 residents of Sunny Acres took the stand Thursday before De Vaul to testify that nobody is breaking Crandall’s earlier order prohibiting them from living in garden sheds, RVs or the barns on the property.
And the dairy barn is only being used for food storage, not as a place to cook and gather, according to Thursday’s testimony from the witnesses.
Crandall postponed the hearing to Nov. 7 because De Vaul’s attorney, John Belsher, hasn’t finished with his questioning of De Vaul and county lawyer Terrence Cassidy hasn’t had a chance to cross-examine him.
Jess Macias, a program manager of the Sunny Acres sober living facility, said that program participants and operators are residing in a farm house with six bedrooms that is permitted for habitation.
Like other witnesses who testified Thursday, Macias, who lives at the property, said that people living in the sheds vacated the facilities in the last week of August.
De Vaul testified that a dairy barn on his property was equipped with electrical, plumbing and gas when it was built in the 1940s before permitting was required.
He added that he vaguely remembered some of the construction of the barn when he was 4 years old in 1947, noting that he was raised on the property.
Crandall requested that Cassidy and Belsher file arguments about whether any use of De Vaul’s land could be “grandfathered” based on pre-existing construction.