Is a Temporary ‘Ranch’ on Empty Land at Miramar Air Base San Diego’s Solution for the Unhoused?

by on January 18, 2023 · 14 comments

in Homelessness, San Diego

Let’s have this discussion. San Diego needs to have it.

Bill Walton — probably San Diego’s most famous personage — and George Mullen, the CEO of Sunrise Ranch, have just penned an opinion showcasing their vision of a solution to San Diego’s unhoused.

They offer up something called Sunrise Ranch to be built as a camp for unhoused people on 2,000 acres of empty land at the Miramar Marine Corps Station, the former Camp Elliot weapons range.

They write:

Sunbreak Ranch has three straightforward and achievable goals:

First, provide real help to our homeless brothers and sisters (and stop pretending that allowing them to sleep, urinate, and defecate on our city streets is helpful or humane to anyone).

Second, clean up our cities.

Third, return our cities to the Rule of Law, which is the key component of our social compact and all great civilized and sustainable societies.

Sunbreak Ranch is designed to be a large-scale temporary ranch in the layout of the old California ranchos.

It will be a creative, one-of-a-kind location featuring 35-plus amenities and benefits that strive to make the ranch the best possible temporary home for our homeless fellow citizens.

Here’s more of their vision:

The best location in San Diego for this beta test is on the unused empty federal lands just east of Interstate 15 on the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. This location is at the geographic and population heart of San Diego County and easily accessible to everyone. From Interstate 15, exit Miramar Way, head east, and you are there.

Sunbreak Ranch will be the location and solution center for homelessness. It is designed to welcome all homeless persons, each of whom may come and go as they please. Individuals can reside in a community tent, or camp on their own in a series of designated and protected areas for families, single mothers, elderly people, veterans, those with dogs, and others as needed.

Sunbreak Ranch will span 2,000 acres with vast open space surrounding it.

There will be portable toilets and portable showers, mess halls, medical tents, storage facilities and onsite service providers including dedicated teams of mental health professionals, substance abuse rehabilitation specialists and vocational trainers. There will be free daily shuttle service going to and from downtown San Diego — only 12 miles away.

Sunbreak will have private security as well as a permanent 24/7 public police station in order to maintain a “clean, healthy, safe and secure environment” for everyone at all times.

Sunbreak’s approach will be focused on diagnosing each person’s unique situation. And then will assist every able person back to work and independent living. For those unable, Sunbreak will get them the services that will best help them.

Is this the best or most viable solution on a short-term basis? Some critics have already likened it to Nazi concentration camps. Lots of questions abound. What do you think?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Vern January 18, 2023 at 12:11 pm

“… Some critics have already likened it to Nazi concentration camps…”

Wait… what?

“… It is designed to welcome all homeless persons, each of whom may come and go as they please. Individuals can reside in a community tent, or camp on their own in a series of designated and protected areas for families, single mothers, elderly people, veterans, those with dogs, and others as needed…”


Christopher Thomas January 18, 2023 at 2:43 pm

“Some critics have already likened it to Nazi concentration camps.”

Whether or not this proposed project is a good idea I can’t say, but that is a triple stooopid thing to say on the part of these critics. I’d even go so far as to say it’s insulting.


kh January 18, 2023 at 4:25 pm

No. Anything short of new condominiums with 50″ TVs, a pool, ocean breezes, and well-appointed communal areas is just further victimizing the unfortunate. Isn’t that the same mistake they made with the concentration camps?


kh January 18, 2023 at 4:30 pm

Anyways, yes to any and all of the above options for homeless housing/lodging/shelter/intervention/etc. I would allow RVs and cars as well, with septic and water service available. People are dying on the street and some of the “homeless advocates” are too busy shooting down any effort to intervene. It’s as if they want people to stay homeless, destitute, and in danger.


JayBird January 18, 2023 at 9:57 pm

I just don’t understand any citizen of San Diego that has an argument against the Sunbreak proposal. If Bill Walton and George Mullen are willing to put this out there, and willing to put their personal nuts on the line – we should take it seriously and support the effort. Any argument that this proposal is akin to a ” Manzanar at Miramar” (I just coined that phrase) is an affront to citizens that are really trying to find some humanitarian options for people in crisis. I applaud their efforts! However… Getting the City to enforce Van/ Car/ lifers to move out there – I seriously doubt it! (any time soon). They can’t even get people to move on from the street parking even if you use “Get it Done”… Some, but little enforcement. Come on. We all know that real issues here are the folks that have some serious mental or substance challenges. There is no way that even as successful an opportunity as Sunbreak might be as an independent non-profit, and a wonderful Eden, will really be capable to manage the real issues. (we are not ever going to get rid of tweakers)…I love the love the plans they are trying to manifest. The City of San Diego. The County of San Diego, And The State of California need to recognize an opportunity , and they better embrace it – they are failing badly, (not to mention our own city council members, and the Supervisors, our Representatives and Senators and especially ODD TODD better get on board – make it his “idea”, probably not…LOL…! My wish is that they can make this happen, and let’s see, with all good wishes. BTW, it is good to know that there will be a provided shuttle back and forth to Downtown… Dammit! You won’t have to walk mile to the nearest bus stop?


Gravitas January 19, 2023 at 9:18 am

BEST summary from colleague of mine immersed in the field:
“Sunbreak Ranch, yes, might be helpful for a small percentage of homeless population, 20-30%, but unfortunately in my experience probably waste of focus and money for rest of 70+%, unless it includes extensive and long term treatment for addiction and mental illness, which would probably not happen.

“Mental health and addiction are not attractive issues, messy, difficult to treat, and take great deal of money and time. Most donors in my experience don’t want to be connected to either of these, much prettier to talk about ranches in the sun. Until addiction and mental illness are acknowledged as a huge contributing factor to homelessness, it may not improve. One of the reasons addicts don’t want to go to shelters is that they then lose contact with their dealers, who frequent tent cities. Detox is not usually available anywhere and meth and opoid addicts are desperate to avoid withdrawal.

“Treatment of mental illness has been failing badly over the last several years. Big Pharma, insurance companies, corrupt research probably some of main causes. Pharmaceutical companies sold people a lie, pill will fix it, medicalized normal human emotion, so that they can make money. Insurance companies don’t want to pay, so sold society on idea that everything has a diagnosis, which is ridiculous, and that short term therapy works, which it doesn’t. Academic researchers need grant money, and pharmaceutical companies often pay for the studies, which sadly are often slanted toward donor bias, and call it “evidence based” which is often simply just not true.

“Drugs are stronger. Legalization of marijuana was a disaster. Alcohol treatment is a billion dollar business, works about 10% of time, statistics skewed. The only real treatment for alcoholism is a spiritual solution, surrender and fellowship, only thing that has worked for 90 years. We are the most medicated society in history tragically.

“So is there no answer ? My answer is to tell the truth where you can. Support agencies or resources that offer expanded mental health and substance abuse help, and be there for each other with all the range of great and horrible human emotions and experiences.


Frank Gormlie January 19, 2023 at 11:43 am

Yes, but … does homelessness cause mental illness or does mental illness cause homelessness?

Let’s face it, people are homeless because they don’t have houses. There’s nearly 175,000 unhoused in California, our great state. They’re in need of housing.

From CalMatters: “The first statewide snapshot of California’s homelessness crisis since the pandemic hit reveals that the number of people without a stable place to call home increased by at least 22,500 over the past three years, to 173,800.”

“Homelessness experts mostly attribute the rise to precipitous drops in earnings during the pandemic among Californians already teetering on the edge. They also point to a worsening housing affordability crisis that is decades in the making.”


Vern January 19, 2023 at 12:35 pm

Sure, but 20%-30% is a good start, regardless.


Frank Gormlie January 19, 2023 at 11:49 am

One of my main questions about Sun Ranch is how will it be managed? Will residents have democratic rights in the decision-making? Will there be strong efforts to find consensus among the residents to manage the site? Who will be doing security? Walton et al say security will be “private.” Why not let any residents be their own security.


JayBird January 19, 2023 at 2:41 pm

I agree – The Sunbreak idea is still a pretty good starting point and maybe a great foundation to incubate a welcoming community space. I recently saw a pretty great documentary on KPBS :
It’s a communal place in Austin, Texas . Their website is:
Seems like a good model? Yes, Austin is not San Diego – but Austin is a magnet and I’m certain that the crisis there is as untenable as it is here.


GML January 19, 2023 at 3:10 pm

Seems like a better, more realistic and achievable solution than any others currently out there.

Can you please cite some of these critics that “…have already likened it to Nazi concentration camps”? Or is that not actually true.


Paul Sterling January 19, 2023 at 4:42 pm

They want $275 million (!!!!) to set this up. Just imagine the amount of short-term shelter and long-term housing options across the county that could be built that would actually solve this problem.

Also, that doesn’t cover the cost of cleaning up what’s essentially a superfund site where this would be set up. Would any of you want to sleep on the ground that’s got years of jet fuel and god knows what else soaked in?


Don Wood February 10, 2023 at 11:43 am

How do the proponents propose to convince homeless individuals to agree to move from where they live to a backcountry “ranch” on federal land under the Miramar landing pattern?

Why would anyone want to move somewhere that doesn’t have connections to the city’s water and sewer systems? What would it take to bring water and sewer services to this property?

If homeless individuals and families do agree to be moved to this new facility, how do proponents plan to keep them there if they change their minds? Are we talking about fences and guard towers manned by armed guards? Who would pay for them?

Still a whole lot of unanswered questions that need to be dealt with before this concept is likely go get any traction.


Vern February 10, 2023 at 7:17 pm

“… How do the proponents propose to convince homeless individuals to agree to move from where they live to a backcountry “ranch”?…”

Simple, have Todd Gloryhole remind them that there are Sexy Streets leading to the facility that is situated in America’s Finest City, Enron by the Sea!


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