Dan De Vaul's Sunny Acres will be overseen by a receiver, judge rules

A receiver has been appointed by Superior Court Judge Charles S. Crandall to oversee code compliance at the San Luis Obispo ranch owned by Dan De Vaul, who runs a sober-living facility on the property.

Crandall issued his ruling Friday, sharply rebuking De Vaul’s contention that he has been trying to bring his facilities and living conditions up to code at the ranch called Sunny Acres. The order appoints David J. Pasternak as receiver and takes effect immediately.

“Although Sunny Acres claims there is no longer any health and safety emergency, this argument is meritless,” Crandall wrote. “The best way to gauge the future is by examining past history. Given what has transpired so far, the court can reasonably expect that illegal human habitation will recur once the county inspections cease.”

De Vaul said Friday evening that the ruling “makes me want to puke” and believes it spells the end of his ownership of his 72-acre ranch, where he houses 15 people in legal living quarters.

They otherwise might be homeless, De Vaul said — living in a shelter, by the creek or in jail.

De Vaul previously said that he was doing everything he could to comply with codes and that the appointment of a receiver could lead to the county taking over his property.

He believes the costs that a contractor would charge to conduct work on the property and assess to him — which he estimates to be $1.5 million to $2 million — would force liens and eventual seizure of the ranch he bought in 2002.

“I think I’m going to lose the ranch,” De Vaul said after learning of the order. “I’m not going to take money out of my pocket for this.”

Crandall ordered the receiver to make sure all RVs, sheds, tents and other illegal living facilities are vacated; residents are provided safe drinking water; wells provide safe drinking water or new wells are drilled; and three buildings now violating codes (a stucco barn, a dairy barn and an accessory shed) are either demolished or permitted to restore the buildings to the county’s ag-exempt code.

The rancher argued in court that he has made progress on compliance. For example, he provides bottled drinking water instead of contaminated well water. Structures that county officials have deemed dangerous no longer serve as living quarters, as De Vaul works with the county to obtain permits for improvements.

But Crandall said that De Vaul’s plans for permitting haven’t met county safety and health standards despite multiple meetings — and he wrote that Sunny Acres has had “countless opportunities, over more than a decade, to correct significant violations of the law.”

“Rather than speedily correcting the problems in light of the looming injunction deadlines, representatives of Sunny Acres chose to quarrel about the behavior of county officials. ” Crandall wrote. “Equally problematic, Sunny Acres has undertaken partial demolitions and other unauthorized work.”

De Vaul’s lawyer, John Belsher, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday night.

In a November court hearing, Belsher said he believes the county is trying to collect on about $150,000 in attorney fees. De Vaul listed $80,000 in savings, two vacant properties in Arizona and California Valley, and the Sunny Acres ranch as his assets in his testimony — implying he couldn’t afford a receiver.