Indian American venture capitalist Vinod Khosla — embroiled in a fierce battle over access to Martins Beach, which sits below his 89-acre property in Northern California — filed a petition Feb. 22 with the U.S. Supreme Court to keep the popular beach private.
On the sidelines of a Feb. 23 dinner for a delegation of women entrepreneurs from India, at which Khosla was the keynote speaker, India-West caught up with the legendary entrepreneur to ask about the lawsuit. “I can’t comment on that,” Khosla told this publication tersely as he bolted out of the venue.
Vanity Fair magazine has dubbed the matter the “Get off my lawn” lawsuit, a sly reference to cantankerous codgers who yell to neighborhood children to stay off their property.
The Supreme Court, which receives about 7,000 cases per year and hears only about 150, had not indicated as of press time Feb. 27 whether it intends to hear Khosla’s case. He is being represented by former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement, who has argued several high-profile cases before the Supreme Court.
“The analytics are against him,” Mark Massara, attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, the defendant in the lawsuit, told India-West, noting that the Supreme Court hears about two percent of the petitions it receives each year.
Massara noted that this is Khosla’s final shot at getting a ruling in his favor. “If the court declines to hear the case, it’s all over for him. He will be held in contempt of court if he doesn’t open the gate.”
The California Court of Appeals last August ruled against Khosla, mandating that he immediately open the beach to public access. The court upheld a 2014 ruling by San Mateo Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach, who noted that “changing the intensity of use” – even though there was no use – and prohibiting access to the water constituted development of the property, which required a permit from the California Coastal Commission. (see earlier story here: http://bit.ly/2ggE9mX)
Khosla had not acquired a permit, saying he was not developing the property. Mallach, however, ruled that erecting the gate to the access road constituted development.
The California Supreme Court last October declined to hear Khosla’s appeal to the lower court’s ruling.
Martins Beach has been a popular spot for picnickers, fishermen, and surfers for over a century. The Deeney family, which formerly owned the spot, kept the beach open to the public for a small entrance fee. Khosla bought a home above the beach in 2008 for $37 million, and — after a year — erected a locked gate on the tiny road which provides the only access to the beach. He also hired security guards who patrolled the beach to ward off trespassers.
The California Coastal Act of 1976 mandates that all beaches in the state must remain accessible to the public, up to the mean tideline, the highest point at which waves crash onto the shore.
In 2016, the billionaire – in an anomalous move – offered to sell the small access road to the state for $30 million, almost the entire value of his 89-acre property. The state declined Khosla’s offer, but could seize the road at any point via eminent domain.
“Vinod is asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether the Coastal Act is constitutional,” said Massara, noting that such a ruling would be beyond the purview of the Supreme Court.
In his 151-page Supreme Court filing – a copy was provided to India-West –Khosla noted that he had kept the beach open for a year after buying the property but closed it when the state said he could only charge “a paltry $2” as an entrance fee.
“For all his billions, Vinod Khosla epitomizes nothing so much as the miserly scrooge with his years-long multimillion dollar legal campaign aimed at refusing the simple $2 gratuity from the masses for beach access,” Massara told India-West.
Khosla in the lawsuit characterized the California Coastal Commission as “an extreme outlier that runs roughshod over all manner of constitutional rights.”
If allowed to prevail, the lower court’s ruling will “throw private property rights in California into complete disarray,” he said in the lawsuit.