Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, printed in The Bay News
Tolosa Press, SLO, Ca for March 13, 2008.
The Law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. --Anatole France
At the corner of Have and Have Not, the crossroads of Past and Future, a curious battle is brewing between long-time rancher, Dan De Vaul and SLO County over Whatever shall we do with the extremely valuable property at the corner of Develop and Not Develop, otherwise known as Foothill and Los Osos Valley Road.
Like so many farms and ranches in this county, De Vaul has seen his land rapidly get surrounded by high-end housing incompatible with farming and ranching. Owners of million dollar "ranchettes" might think their million-dollar views of a quaint "farm" are splendid until plowing dust blows in the window, followed by the scent of cow poop. And when the sound of recalcitrant tractors or chain saws coughing and whining in the dawn hours wake them up, "bucolic" isn’t the word that comes to mind.
Start with a years-long gleeful battle by a self described "irascible" De Vaul pushing-the-buttons of various County regulators over various code violations, permits and zoning issues-–with the County regulators pushing right back--then add into the mix the powder-keg arrival of about 50 recovering alcoholics/addicts, including convicted sex offenders, who set up a non-profit, self-help, live-in, certified California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources recovery program called Sunny Acres. The "clients" slept in a barn that had no permit for such use, and suddenly there was the perfect storm of straight-forward issues, hidden agendas, political manipulation, delicious grandstanding, not-so secret fears, moral loathing and class warfare, economic pressure, civil shirking and buck-passing and finally a tent city once again blooming right next to LOVR for maximum in-your-face public exposure.
While the De Vaul battle may be seen as entertaining or annoying, it does bring to public consciousness a growing problem in our beautiful but expensive, rapidly upscaling, soon-to-be totally unaffordable community: Whatever shall we do with the poor, the sick, the halt, the lame, the broken, the broke?
Traditionally, the poor, the homeless, the down-and-out were shoveled into the poorest parts of town to various "Midnight Missions" located in low-cost "Skid Rows," out of sight, out of mind. But where, in this County, is there anyplace that can be defined as "affordable" that hasn't already been snapped up by developers or penciled in at the Planning Department, property all ready to be developed, renovated, repaired, rebuilt, renewed, upscaled and resold--at very high prices?
And where, in this County, do people go to get live-in drug and alcohol treatment services? County General was closed long ago. And the people who break and need time to repair, where do they live if they have jobs that are always one paycheck away from the disaster of eviction? Or no job at all? Then when the County's broke, the State's broke, the whole nation's up to its eyeballs in debt, and economic reality means that "affordable" housing remains an unrealistic inside joke penciled in on planners’ blueprints, and universal health care still remains a dream, and NIMBYs see that integrated community-based mental-health/addiction treatment care centers never get built, then it's no wonder we saw DeVaul's ad-hoc compassion and the neighbors' economic/political power colliding at the corner of Foothill and LOVR.
It's a collision that now can have several endings. Mr. DeVaul could pull an "Alex Madonna" and threaten to build a piggery on his property–-it’s a working farm, after all. Maybe put in a few thousand chickens as well? Sell nice fresh bacon and eggs?
Or perhaps all the stake holders in this particular drama could agree on a win/win strategy: The county could partner on building and running a properly supervised live-in, clean-and-sober drug/alcohol recovery center, thereby bringing Sunny Acres into compliance with the various county regulations concerning permitted use of his property, the public could donate money, goods and services to help this whole enterprise, thereby demonstrating the compassion and care the people of this county are famous for, and the neighbors could finally acknowledge that "bucolic," in the real world, often comes with some unexpected and challenging realities.