Marine veteran and Police Officer Larry Turner speaks at Mission Beach Town Council meeting on Oct. 2, 2023.
Marine veteran and Police Officer Larry Turner speaks at Mission Beach Town Council meeting on Oct. 2, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Update: This story has been updated at the end with a response to the Marine Corps letter by the advocate of the plan, George Mullen.

For years, local businessman George Mullen has circulated an idea called Sunbreak Ranch – a remote camp where the city could concentrate its homeless population and provide facilities to help them – but it started to get serious traction this summer as Mullen and supporters settled on a preferred site: East Miramar.

Monday, the Marine Corps sent a letter to Mayor Todd Gloria apparently intending to squash the idea, at least on the government’s land. The letter, from Col. T.M. Bedell, commanding officer of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, explains why the military base is “not a suitable location” for such a concept.

The site is an approach corridor where four aircraft have crashed in the last 20 years, Bedell wrote. The land contains unexploded ordnance, sensitive vernal pool watersheds that support endangered species and three live-fire pistol and rifle training areas.

“These training ranges include surface danger zones and explosive safety arcs,” he wrote.

Mullen made his pitch to several dozen people at a community room in Belmont Park overlooking the Pacific Ocean Monday night. He laid out heady plans for the Marine Corps’ potential participation.

Bill Walton speaks at Mission Beach Town Council meeting on Oct. 2, 2023.
Bill Walton speaks at Mission Beach Town Council meeting on Oct. 2, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

“Ideally,” he said, “they would come in and build us a full deployment site, just like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mullen pulled up a rendering that showed tents and buildings laid out across a 500-acre stretch of land. He said the Marine Corps could build Sunbreak Ranch in just two weeks.

Then “they hand us the keys,” said Mullen.

Clearly Marine Corps officials are not so inclined.

Mullen has gotten significant support for the concept from leaders across San Diego. Most notably, basketball legend Bill Walton, longtime developer Tom Sudberry, philanthropist Malin Burnham and former city manager Jack McGrory. Recently, the Police Officers Association, the union of officers for the city of San Diego, endorsed the idea, and a new mayoral candidate, Larry Turner, made the idea his main plan for addressing homelessness. Turner is himself a police officer.

The idea is to lease 500 acres of land at Miramar, enough to house and serve all unsheltered people in the region. To get them there, they would launch an even more aggressive enforcement effort in the region to prevent people from sleeping anywhere else.

George Mullen speaks at Mission Beach Town Council meeting on Oct. 2, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

They estimated it would cost $275 million per year and they want to raise funding from philanthropists to make it work.

“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,” Mullen and Walton wrote in an op-ed in January.  

Mullen had previously floated other sites like Brown Field in Otay Mesa or much further into the desert. But he got far more traction when he set his sights on Miramar, which is much closer to the central urban area, though still at least 12 miles away from downtown. Supporters claimed residents would be free to leave and there would be free daily shuttles downtown.

The idea was on its way from the world of local municipal fantasies (like the floating airport) to something that seemed plausible to a lot of people, many of whom really wanted to not see so much homelessness and suffering every day. The homeless population would be out of sight and taken care of.

We sent Mullen the letter, but he had not had a chance to review it and respond yet. We’ll update this story with his response when it comes in.

The letter from Marines is a stark message about the obstacles in the way. Seventeen years ago, the Marine Corps helped kill the region’s plans for a new airport at Miramar. The idea made its way to the ballot in 2006 but voters overwhelmingly rejected it in part because of the Marines Corps unrelenting hostility to the plan.

Update: Mullen wrote a response to the Marine Corps letter.

“That didn’t take long for (Mayor Todd Gloria) to seek a letter trying to kill Sunbreak.  However, what he doesn’t understand is that Sunbreak is NOT location dependent…we are concept dependent…period.

“We are looking at a host of viable locations including Miramar, Otay, and several others.  Furthermore, the standard Miramar excuses expressed here don’t even remotely eliminate Miramar.  (Think “Duffy Town”.) There are at least 5 separate viable sites within the massive empty unused areas of Miramar that could work.  And, of course, the Miramar chain-of-command goes much much higher…”

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at or 619-693-6249.

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  1. Right idea, wrong location. Arkansas or similar. Granted, they won’t be down range of live fire and unexploded ordnance but they would still be far away.

  2. Oh, ok, just 275 million a year to “take care of” the mentally ill, drug addicted members of a transient lifestyle, that will be paid for by our savior philanthropic betters. Love it. Also, was it meant to be implied that support was being given for his little love ranch with the idea that its “residents” would be free to just come and go as they please? With a free shuttle service no less? And the part about the Marines just building the thing like some sort of hellish FOB in iraq or afghanistan, and then just give up the keys for it made me laugh out loud. The balls on this guy! Yes, we should take care of our homeless people, and we do in a myriad of ways. Our TEMPORARILY homeless appreciate it in more ways than this guy could possibly comprehend. The majority of chronically homeless people though are simply not willing and/or able to abide by any semblance of a program designed to get people into jobs, off drugs, or manage their own mental health. The only thing that can do that is FORCED incarceration for their mental illnesses or criminal behavior. No, im not recommending that, this is still the USA and unfortunately, all these freedoms which some cannot seem to handle is the very reason why we are having this problem. So until we are all subject to some authoritarian regime (any day now), we will just all have to deal with – GASP!! the sight of homeless people in our streets. There will ALWAYS be more, no matter what this guys pipedream consists of.

  3. 🤣😂 OMG…I had to go back and check that this was real and not one of those fake sites! I’m DYING! 🤣

    “Ideally they would come in and build us a full deployment site, just like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Marine Corps could build Sunbreak Ranch in just two weeks. Then they hand us the keys.”

  4. Mullen really got all of these people to sign on to this without even checking in with the Marine Corps in the first place? What a joke.

    1. Reminds me of when San Diegans developed a plan for a civilian airport at Miramar without first getting buy-in from the Marine Corp. This wasn’t quite as bad. In that case they delayed a realistic plan to build a better airport for at least a decade. We could have had an upgraded airport by now if not for that stupid idea.

  5. We could just deploy our homeless to one of the many existing FOBs in Afghanistan.

  6. If “Sunbreak Ranch is the Answer” then the question must have been:

    “What would be a cruel, ineffective response to homelessness, one that inflicts even more suffering on the most disadvantaged members of society, requires nothing of the privileged, and lets the most powerful pat themselves on the back for their ‘philanthropy’.”

    This is a proposal to “concentrate” people into a “remote camp” through “aggressive enforcement.”

    Think about that.

    1. Cruel? The cost is 5581 per month per person. An extraordinary amount to be spending on a homeless person with no guarantee of a positive outcome. They could build luxury condos for the homeless for the amount of money proposed and that still isn’t good enough for you? No wonder we still have lots of homeless people wandering around.

  7. Sun Scam Ranch has serious constitutional issues, no definitive plan, no location, but they do have a fancy brochure, and are trying to raise money left and right. Are you guys sure your not part of the Trump Organization, or maybe Bit Coin, or one of those TV Televangelists? “Believe and it will happen. Can I get a Hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters?”

    I have heard this pitch before, and most of the people doing it wind up in jail.

    1. Don’t bring Trump into this. No conservative and certainly not Donald Trump would be dumb enough to support this idea.

  8. Sounds like exactly the kind of place NBA legend-in-his-own-mind Bill Walton wants to see the homeless….falling aircraft, unexploded ordinance and live-fire exercises. Hopefully, this environment would provide the homeless with the character-building lesson they desperately need, a lesson Walton was able to obtain through the rigors of attending high school in suburban San Diego, doing stretches, and practicing freethrows.

  9. The City of San Diego ought to utilize several satellite compounds, all on city land, one being next to the Balboa Trolly Station. Seeking United States armed forces approval is ridiculous in light of the undesirable accompanying dangers. Dan Smiechowski proposed this very idea 4 years ago while a candidate for SDCC D2, but as usual Americans don’t like messengers with weird names, they are accordingly not credible. Dan Smiechowski is a proud American and stands for election as a candidate for San Deigo Mayor.

    1. Not sure that is true Dan. Americans seemed to be fine with Barack Hussein Obama. Now if you really believe that people don’t support you because of you name, many actors and singers change their name to make their product more marketable. We aren’t that far from Hollywood so you could easily do the same if you thought that was the root cause of your election troubles.

  10. This is true. I could not make this BS up! Years ago, when I asked Mr. Bill Walton for his endorsement, he said, and I paraphrase. “You have too many vowels in your name.” I was sad for my papa from Poland. Now, Mr. Walton endorsed somebody named Turner for San Diego Mayor. Dan Smiechowski remains undeterred and will fight on his knees, if necessary, as a candidate for San Diego Mayor.

  11. Okay so with some basic math, the cost divided by current unsheltered count of 4106 would be $66,975 per year per person. Divide that by 12 which is $5581. That is more expensive than a 3+ bedroom luxury condo/apt per month to house 1 single homeless person. I understand that it is a complex problem but seems like these costs are always outrageous. We’d be better off raising the money from the same philanthropists to provide these people with vouchers for motel rooms or apartments and then give them a worksheet on where to find other services they need. It would appear to me that these bloated costs for homelessness services might actually incentivize homelessness.

  12. vOsD you are better than this: the “facts” particularly the cost as reported in your article don’t match the statements on Subbreak’s website. It’s not enough to say Mullen has responded: change your article to be truthful as any responsible journalist would do: $67M per year for three years, not $275M per year. It’s a bargain, given what we’ve spent so far and the results from all that spending: enriched bureaucrats, developers, and landlords, and the elected officials in their pockets who are unwilling to resolve this catastrophe.

  13. I would add this about Bill Walton, Peter Seidler and their Lucky Duck ilk. Since age 25, Walton has never encountered a problem…..apart from health….that he can’t make go away by writing a check. The same is true for the other Ducks, albeit maybe not as young as age 25. In dealing with homeless human beings, they have finally encountered a problem they cannot make disappear by writing a check. And that makes them very, very frustrated and angry.

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