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San Luis Obispo rancher who housed homeless is sentenced to jail for safety code violations


A San Luis Obispo rancher who for years has illegally housed homeless people was ordered today to serve 90 days in jail.

A defiant Dan de Vaul stretched out his arms and let deputies place handcuffs on him before being led out of the San Luis Obispo courtroom. The 66-year-old defendant was offered probation after a jury convicted him in September of two misdemeanor violations of building and safety codes at his Sunny Acres ranch.

But De Vaul refused the terms of his probation because he said it would mean he could no longer provide shelter for about 30 people who reside in his sober-living facility. For eight years, he’s operated the program on his 72-acre ranch, housing clients in mobile homes, tents, garden sheds and an aging Victorian home.

For a time, he also housed people in a three-story stucco barracks until it was shut down last year.

“The first condition of probation is obey all laws,” De Vaul said before the hearing, which was attended by about 30 of his supporters. “I’m proud to go to jail for housing the homeless.”

Superior Court Judge John Trice said San Luis Obispo officials have repeatedly offered to help De Vaul bring his property up to code. But De Vaul has declined all attempts at help, Trice said.

“Such conduct can only be viewed as irresponsible and arrogant,” the judge said before sentencing him to jail.

De Vaul was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

-- Catherine Saillant in San Luis Obispo

Photo: San Luis Obispo deputy sheriff Noah Martin puts the handcuffs on Dan De Vaul after De Vaul was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times



Story: A rehab center is praised -- and vilified

Photos: Needed haven or unsafe eyesore?

Comments () | Archives (103)

One politician told me a joke:

- The last thing you want to hear is "We are from the government and we came to help you."

I wonder what would the people of California vote for in this case: to imprison him, or to use all the money spent on this stupid case for something better, like roads, or schools or hospitals...

I the governmental authorities turned a blind-eye to this and let him provide sub-standard housing--with the knowledge that it was out of compliance--and something happened, someone got killed or injured because any known problems, suing the the city/county would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

If you support this kind of "charitable" activity, don't b*tch when your taxes go up to pay for the lawsuits.

Building codes

There are a lot of comments on here that indicate people do not understand what exactly building codes entail. There are many different documents which get referred to as "building codes", when really those rules could be planning rules, or design guidelines.

Not all building code guidelines are about health and safety. For everyone who has said "but what if someone died?!!!!" you do realise that low water use toilets are a code requirement right? Is this something someone is going to die from?

Many US building codes actually MANDATE that a divider be provided between urinals. Why? Urinals use less water than toilets, so to keep shy men from using toilets, they mandate urinal screens. Is this something that would kill someone?

Many "building codes" have design guidelines which require the use of stucco, spanish style architecture with spanish tile roofs. IS this something which someone could die from?

Building codes dictate how much parking should be provided for the estimated number of users. Building codes can dictate what color your roof should be, or how well insulated the walls are. Building codes can tell you how many trees need to be provided on your site, and require you to retain runoff from storms on site.

The point of this is that not all building code violations are the same. Not all building code issues are matters of life and death. so - what were the actual violations?

Building codes are as much about preserving or increasing property value as they are about protecting life.

Read the linked article and about his lovely neighbor Mulholland. What was her motivation?

This is an example of PC gone wild. A fellow citizen trys to lend a helping hand and some goodie two-shoes comes along and makes a bad situation worse. The reason... because the authorities do not want to be responsible for allowing unsanitary conditions, but pushing a market basket and sleeping in the weeds is OK. What would have happened 100 years ago...... is this really progress ?

There is to much apathy in this country. But then again, who cares.

Poor guy.

Everybody keeps saying what if those buildings collapsed and the homeless where hurt then we would be crying where were the officials.

I wouldn't. He gave them a roof over their heads and probably fed them too. If they took that risk so be it. Just because something isn't up to code doesn't necessarily mean its unsafe (particularly in California). How many homeless die of exposure every year. I'd take the shack any day of the week.

I am curious however as to the "help" offered to him. Was the help: rounding up the homeless for removal, a loan, a bulldozer?

"Hey, you wanna be and OUTLAW"? Good, then stay at the "Grey Bar Hotel". You people forget, he is was and will be making money, for housing and running that program. Ain't no Saint here, "Suckers"!

I think the question here is what kind of help where they offering...Whatever it was he seen it as not a benifit to help him or the homeless. You know the "govenment"(San Luis Obispo officials) has their own way of helping.

De Vaul has been thumbing his nose at code enforcement for years, housing the homeless is only his latest excuse. But you all fell for it hook line and sinker...

This is a man of honor who should be respected. His strength and character are not recognized by this generation of government indoctrinated peasants. Los Angeles has removed the Holy Cross from the mission in it's symbol. Is is doing better because of this? These laws are made by bureaucrats who only want to control your everyday existence. Government cut off water supplies to central California farmers for a fish. When will people wake up and take back this country??

The article cites the judge as saying the defendant declined "all attempts to help" toward attaining code compliance, which makes it sound as though such attempts might have included reasonable offers which respect the dignity and social objectives of the intended recipient.

If this were the case one would expect "all attempts" to be more accurately specified and ascertained before gratuitously vaunting judgment as some readers appear to have done here.

Also, unless the judge was misquoted, one would also venture to expect less imprecise use of language from him or anyone else in the execution of duties involving legal repercussion.

Meanwhile, whether or not the case here, code compliance is a legal weapon too seldom wielded without bias by agenda-driven enforcement officialdom.

If all de Vaul did wrong was an alleged technicality too trivial to merit more detailed reporting than provided in this article, I for one wish the man good fortune with his appeal and continuing positive contribution to society.

How can the city come on someone's land and remove vehicles that are stored there? How can a vehicle be stored illegaly? This is the perfect example of why I left California for Mississippi.

in previous articles the help offered was to bulldoze the offending buildings. sure that's help.
what was the new offer?

Do doorways, dumpsters, and cardboard boxes meet code?

Part of the larger picture is SLO wants to run homeless people out of their county and dump them into LA or San Francisco. Clearly this is a larger issue, if every county try's to push homeless into the next county, what does that say for our country? Especially in a time when more and more people are homeless because of greedy Wall Street financers putting the U.S. economy in jeopardy.

Further to the comment by JCT at 2:15 on 11/23:
1. You ask how much improvements would cost. I ask who would pay for them -- the government? But then they'd have control over Mr. de Vaul.
2. You ask what is the nature of the improvements. I ask are there enough sanitary facilities for those who are living in tents and the "garden sheds"?

Further to DS's comment on 11/23 at 2:25:
You said, "I doubt they paid rent". I refer you to the L A Times article of May, entitled "A rehab center is praised -- and vilified", wherein Mr. deVaul stated that he charges his teneants $300 a month, room and board and training, whereas with improvements it would probably cost them $900.

You have to realize when they say "Help" was offered it does not mean REAL HELP!

The Rescue Missions say they "Help" the homeless, but in reality forcing & mandating 3 times a day church service & slave labor for a mat on the filthy floor and rotten food-bank bean slurry doesn't help anyone!

Okay, some code violations... he was helping the homeless. Isn't there more things the police and courts can do like look for child molestors on the Internet? Go to gang infested areas?

A judge calling a person arrogant? wow talk about the pot calling the kettle black, there some of the most arrogant SOBs' out there....

The county is spending $12,000 to keep this man locked-up and you have sick & twisted sex offenders roaming the streets looking for your boys & girls....INSANE!

This is why we need to inform juries on their right of Jury Nullification. This is really outrageous, and again are all the murders, rapes and other crimes that have VICTIMS solved or does the SLO Sheriff's Department really have that much time on their hands?

I'm curious what the help was they were going to offer?

Likely it would have involved removing the majority of the homeless there-- to better fit what the property and legal buildings could hold as per regulations and code. Which would explain why he refused help, if it only meant kicking out people with no other home...

Does the church, or other charitable organizations who help the needy break the laws they are subject to? This guy is making money from every individual who stays there ($300 each) on top of the money he makeS from other resources, not to mention the tax benefits he is enjoying. If he really CARED about these people he would have thought nothing of bringing the ranch up to code and continued his goodwill. The only losers here are the homeless.

The cost of building permits is prohibitive to someone who is trying to run a self-sufficient program. I live in San Luis Obispo County and I'm not sure of the exact cost of permits to bring the "barracks" mentioned in the article up to code, but it would be at least $60,000 and possibly double that amount. I have toured Dan's operation and my impression is that his program provides stability in which the residents are able to recover from their addictions. It saddens me to see this outcome.

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