A judge said the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo trumped the California Coastal Act last week and officially ended a century of access by tourists, fishermen, surfers and others to Martins Beach in Half Moon Bay, which is now owned by venture capitalist billionaire Vinod Khosla.
San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled that the treaty, which settled the Mexican-American War, granted the 200-acre beach property to Jose Antonio Alviso before California’s Constitution in 1879 established the public trust doctrine that preserved access to such areas for all state residents.
The property rights remained intact all the way through Khosla’s $37.5-million purchase in 2008. Khosla, a founder of Sun Microsystems, has a net worth of $1.5 billion and is No. 352 on the Forbes 400. His ownership of the property was unknown until a group called Friends of Martin Beach filed a lawsuit over closure of access three years ago.
Khosla critics fear that he is planning to build a mansion on the site and effectively end beach access forever. No building plans have been reported, so it remains to be seen what other California laws might not apply to his private rancho.
Visitors to the beach had been paying a small parking fee to use it since the Deeney family bought the property in 1918 and began building and leasing the 45 cabins that sit on the cliffs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The Deeney family operated a country store, restrooms and other facilities for the public, while keeping open the only road that provides access to the beach.
Two separate lawsuits were filed. The one just decided addressed a broad issue of coastal access. A more narrowly drawn lawsuit by the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation challenges Khosla’s action to bar access using a locked gate as making changes to the property without the proper state permits.
Mark Massara, an attorney for the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times, that Judge Buchwald’s decision, if it survives an expected appeal from Friends of Martin Beach, it will open the floodgates for similar claims: “Every single landowner on the coast is going to rush to see if they’re part of an ancient land grant so they can try to get a get-out-of-jail-free card.”