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The Nature Center at Green Oak Ranch in Vista. A 110-acre parcel of the ranch is for sale and being pursued by nonprofit Solutions for Change as well as the County of San Diego. Courtesy Green Oak Ranch
The Nature Center at Green Oak Ranch in Vista. A 110-acre parcel of the ranch is for sale and being pursued by nonprofit Solutions for Change as well as the County of San Diego. Courtesy Green Oak Ranch
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County, nonprofit have differing visions for Green Oak Ranch

VISTA — The County of San Diego is facing some competition in its bid for the Green Oak Ranch property in Vista, as North County homelessness nonprofit Solutions for Change continues discussions with the landowners that they say started long before the county threw its hat in the ring. 

Around 110 acres of the 142-acre ranch were put up for sale almost a year after the passing of the land’s former owner, Arie de Jong, last April. The county Board of Supervisors, with strong advocacy from Supervisor Jim Desmond, announced in late April that they were entering negotiations with ranch owners to purchase the property for a sober living and behavioral health treatment facility.

For Solutions for Change president Chris Megison, whose nonprofit had already been in talks with the ranch about a private purchase for about 10 months, the announcement seemed very sudden.

“It was surprising to us, of course, when Jim Desmond and the board kind of came barrelling into this thing at the last minute,” Megison said. “There couldn’t be a bigger contrast, really, between our approach and that of the county.” 

While the county proposes a $280 million facility with much-needed behavioral health beds, Solutions for Change hopes to use the ranch to expand its Solutions Academy for families experiencing homelessness, specifically for additional housing and workforce development training. 

Chris Megison, founder of Solutions for Change, pictured in June 2023. Photo by Steve Puterski
Chris Megison, founder of Solutions for Change, pictured in June 2023. File photo/The Coast News

The organization’s two-year vocational academy provides educational, personal and workforce development, housing, and other resources to families and individuals who are homeless or in poverty, have lost work, have struggled with addiction, are victims of domestic violence or abuse, and are formerly incarcerated individuals.

Megison and Solutions for Change have distinguished themselves from other homelessness nonprofits by vocally opposing the Housing First approach, which prohibits nonprofits receiving state funding from mandating sobriety and addiction treatment for shelter. 

Solutions for Change has refused to use this model, losing millions of dollars in state funding over the years and the closure of five of its previous housing complexes in 2020. The organization now relies on donations to fund its programs.

“The state mandate is one-size-fits-all, and the county has to follow that. We are community-driven and from the ground up, we’re people-driven, so when people come to us and say we want a place that’s drug-free, we give them that,” Megison said. 

If they purchase the land, Solutions for Change would move around 70% of its operations to the ranch from its current four-acre property along California Avenue in Vista, Megison said. 

“We’re talking about a multiyear development effort here. The academy has on-campus housing, so we would be talking about developing and building the academy out at the ranch with more on-campus housing,” Megison said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property with a lot there to offer, so we’d have a lot of resources for the community there and to serve our people.” 

For now, Green Oak Ranch has yet to confirm the sale to any party and is continuing negotiations with the county, Solutions for Change, and potentially other bidders. The Coast News has contacted the real estate company handling the sale for comment.

Cabins at Green Oak Ranch in Vista. A 110-acre parcel of the ranch is for sale and being pursued by nonprofit Solutions for Change as well as the County of San Diego. Courtesy Green Oak Ranch
Cabins at Green Oak Ranch in Vista. Local nonprofit Solutions for Change and the County of San Diego are pursuing a 110-acre portion of the ranch for sale. Courtesy Green Oak Ranch

The county has paid a $300,000 earnest deposit on what they estimate will be a $12 million cost for the land. Desmond said it was Green Oak Ranch who approached the county about their land, and he emphasized that the county’s vision would greatly benefit the region. 

“The owners of Green Oak Ranch approached the county to ask if there was interest in purchasing the property. My vision for North County has been focused on treatment and healing, not shelters, parking lots or any Housing First proposals,” Desmond wrote in a statement. “I envision Green Oak Ranch as a sanctuary for recovery, with 24/7 staff, services, and security, providing longer-term care rather than a revolving door of temporary solutions. The facility will offer a supportive environment for individuals seeking to transform their lives, providing essential services not readily available to those in need.”

The parcel for sale currently houses a popular summer camp and retreat center, an RV park, and a residential men’s recovery program operated by Green Oak Ranch Ministries. When the land is sold, the ministry will lose 85% of its funding for the recovery and sober living program. 

Hannah Gailey, executive director of Green Oak Ranch Ministries, has stated that while the recovery program will continue to operate in another area of the ranch, the sale will still mean a huge loss for the ministry and the community at large. 

“No matter who buys the ranch, the ministry loses funding, and the county loses an enormous resource in camps and retreats,” Gailey said.

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