Judge Orders Billionaire to Unblock Beach Access—Again

Tuesday, December 09, 2014
Vinod Khosla

By the time billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla finally opens the public beach he padlocked and claimed as private global warming may have raised the seas to totally envelop it.

In the meantime, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach issued a final order (pdf) last week reiterating her September order that he unlock the gate at Martins Beach off Highway 1 near Half Moon Bay. “That gate across Martins Beach Road must be unlocked and open to the same extent that it was unlocked and open at the time defendants purchased the property,” Mallach wrote.

Mallach ruled that locking the gate was considered property development under a broad definition used in the 1976 Coastal Act and that Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Inc., needed a coastal permit to do that. The law prohibits developments from blocking access to beaches.  

Khosla bought the property for $37.5 million in 2008 from the Deeney family, which had owned the property since 1918. They built and leased dozens of cabins that sit on the cliffs, provided easy access to a parking lot and provided some basic amenities while charging a small entry fee. It was popular with surfers and other locals.

The billionaire’s attorneys said the fact the Deeneys charged money for access proved it was private property. They also argued that the property was excluded from state coastal access laws because it left Spanish hands via the 1848 Treaty of Hidalgo, 31 years before California’s Constitution established the public trust doctrine that preserved access to such areas for all state residents.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald bought that argument in October 2013, which settled one of two lawsuits filed against Khosla. The other, brought by the Surfrider Foundation, was more narrowly drawn and won the favor of Judge Mallach.

Along the way, the Legislature gave the California Coastal Commission the power in June to levy fines over beach access, a cheaper and more flexible tool for disciplining recalcitrant property owners. Lawmakers also passed and Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 968, which directs the State Lands Commission (SLC) to begin negotiations with Khosla to reopen the road or face possible eminent domain proceedings that would acquire the public access.

Judge Mallach’s ruling can be appealed.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Martins Beach: Judge Rejects Khosla's Attempt to Change Her Ruling (by Aaron Kinney, San Mateo County Times)

Judge Orders Billionaire to Open Gate to Martins Beach (by Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle)

Judge Tells Billionaire to Unblock Half Moon Bay Public Beach Access (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach 1, LLC (San Mateo County Superior Court) (pdf)

Leave a comment