Lawsuit alleges Sunny Acres in SLO County is a public nuisance

April 7, 2022

By Josh Friedman

San Luis Obispo County has filed a public nuisance lawsuit against SLO rancher Dan DeVaul and his sober living facility Sunny Acres. [KSBY]

Located on DeVaul’s 72-acre ranch on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo, the Sunny Acres facility houses and provides sober living services to several dozen low-income residents, many of whom might otherwise be homeless. DeVaul and SLO County have repeatedly fought over code enforcement disputes over ownership.

In the lawsuit, the county accuses DeVaul of violating a permanent injunction against the property by allowing people to live in unauthorized structures, including sheds and motor homes connected to unauthorized plumbing. Additionally, the county alleges that DeVaul increased the amount of outdoor storage at the site; made unauthorized improvements to electrical, plumbing and sewage systems; and moved about 150,000 cubic meters of earth in a flood zone without a permit.

Sunny Acres has a history of code enforcement violations dating back to 2001, according to the lawsuit.

Amid a previous row between the county and DeVaul, a 2011 order from a local judge forced the rancher to effectively evict homeless people who were deemed to have stayed in sub-code structures. Sunny Acres subsequently went into receivership, and then in 2013, DeVaul and the county entered into a stipulated agreement requiring the rancher to comply with various regulations in order to continue operations.

In June 2021, the county obtained a civil inspection warrant, and code enforcement officials visited DeVaul’s property, accompanied by sheriff’s deputies. During the inspection, a county official said there were obvious violations on the property, including unauthorized cottages.

DeVaul also acknowledged that the ranch’s main residential building was not licensed property due to a water dispute. DeVaul had sought to connect the building to SLO’s city water system and was reportedly denied service.

In July 2021, the county issued a Notice of Violation.

Also last year, the county reportedly pushed for the sale of Sunny Acres to a Santa Margarita couple, a deal DeVaul rejected.

Since then, progress has been made, but residents are still living in unauthorized structures; the water does not meet safe drinking standards; unauthorized utilities remain in use; there is a significant amount of accumulated waste; and there is no permanent solution to address floodplain filing, the county’s lawsuit states.

The county is seeking a court order appointing a receiver to take full control of the property and make necessary repairs. Likewise, the county is asking a judge to find DeVaul and Sunny Acres in contempt of court for violating the permanent injunction.

DeVaul said Wednesday he worked to clean up the property, including removing more than three dozen vehicles and 200 tons of scrap metal. He also tried to evict many residents, but they refused to leave, DeVaul said.

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