Surfers Gain Access to Malibu Beach, but Billionaire Bucks Judge in Half Moon Bay

Friday, December 19, 2014
(photo: Clay and Janice Bartel via Flickr)

It no longer costs $20 to take a walk on the public beach in Malibu’s Paradise Cove after Kissel Company agreed to open-access demands by the California Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission. But it still costs $40 to park a car there.

The agreement announced Thursday means the company will stop shaking down surfers, take down warning signs and open a locked gate. “We've never seen a violation of this magnitude resolved so quickly,” Coastal Commission Chairman Steve Kinsey told the Los Angeles Times.

It might have helped that letters sent October 31 by each of the two commissions—here (pdf) and here (pdf)—made mention of their new power to fine violators rather than have to go through the expensive, cumbersome process of hauling them into court.

Lawmakers passed legislation in the last session, pushed by Democratic Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, that armed the commissions with long-sought authority to compel quick compliance with their orders. They threatened to fine Kissel $11,250 a day.  

The beach in Malibu is accessible from the Pacific Coast Highway via the private Paradise Cove Road, which leads to an expensive parking lot abutting the sand. Kissel owns the parking lot and operates a café and mobile home park there. It has a 10-year lease that expires in 2019. The location is recognizable by fans of the 1970s “Rockford Files” television show as the setting for star James Garner’s trailer home.

The company does not, however, own the beach and acting like one does is frowned upon by the law.

That hasn’t stopped venture capitalist billionaire Vinod Khosla from closing off Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay, where he has bought a large parcel of land, and thumbing his nose at judicial orders to open it.

Earlier in the month, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach issued a “final order” (pdf) that Khosla needed a coastal permit to lock a gate along the beach’s only access. On Tuesday, his lawyers filed a motion to toss out the judge’s ruling. He wants a new trial. It would be the third.

The San Francisco Chronicle said a letter written by Khosla’s attorney, Dori Yob, argued that vagueness in the judge’s ruling gives his client the option of closing the gate when no one is there to watch it, in bad weather and whenever he “felt like closing.” Yob wrote, “Consistent with Judge Mallach’s judgment, and for safety reasons, the property is currently closed due to bad weather.”

Khosla also received a letter from the Coastal Commission on December 8 threatening to fine him $11,250 a day if he continues to violate the law. At that rate, the Sun Microsystems co-founder, who Forbes says is worth $1.67 billion, could hold out for 148,444 days, or a little more than 406 years.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:   

Paradise Cove Will Stop Illegally Charging for Beach Access (by Bianca Barrigan, LA Curbed)

Surfers Regain Access to Malibu's Paradise Cove; Pier to Be Unlocked (by Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times)

Agreement Establishes Public Access for Paradise Cove (by Paige Austin, Patch)

Vinod Khosla Challenges Judge’s Order to Open Martins Beach Gate (by Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle)

Judge Orders Billionaire to Unblock Beach Access—Again (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Public Access Restored At Paradise Cove Beach In Malibu (California Coastal Commission) (pdf)

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