The California State Lands Commission and the state’s Coastal Commission jointly filed a lawsuit Jan. 6 against Indian American venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, seeking to restore public access to Martin’s Beach.
The picturesque beach on the Northern California coastline has been the subject of contention for nearly a decade. Two years after Khosla bought the beach, he closed off the only access road. Security guards roamed the beach to shoo off those who had nevertheless managed to get onto the beach, which was popular with surfers, picnickers and fishermen for several decades before public access was cut off.
In California, all beaches are public up to the mean high tide line: the highest point at which waves crash onto the shore.
Two non-profit organizations — Friends of Martin’s Beach and the Surfrider Foundation — brought about two separate lawsuits in 2012, demanding Khosla provide public access to the beach. Khosla took his appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, but it declined to hear the matter.
In November, the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Khosla, stating that the previous owners may also have denied full public access by charging a fee for parking.
In the lawsuit filed Jan. 6, the Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission stated that the beach has had public access since at least the early 1900s, and possibly even earlier. The state noted that the only way to access the beach was via the public access road which Khosla has locked.
The state challenged the November ruling in favor of Khosla, stating that a parking fee did not imply restricted usage. “The public understood that the fee was for parking only, collected on a per-car basis, and was not a fee to use or access the beach itself,” wrote the two agencies in the lawsuit. The state asked the court to prevent Khosla and possible vendors from erecting signs, gates or other structures that would prevent the public from using the beach.
The lawsuit was filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on behalf of the California State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission
“California’s coastline belongs to everyone,” said Lieutenant Governor and State Lands Commission Chair Eleni Kounalakis in a press statement. “This lawsuit is a critical part of California’s ongoing efforts to ensure public access and to protect the public’s rights to access its golden shores.”
California Coastal Commission Chair Steve Padilla said in a press statement: “This case goes to the heart of California’s public access mandate,” he said. “We cannot allow this to be chipped away each time someone purchases beachfront property. It’s a dangerous precedent
for the future of public access in California.”
Khosla’s attorney, Dori Yob Kilmer, noted in a statement published by the Los Angeles Times that courts have previously rejected the state’s claims.
“Since the property was purchased by our client, the state and small activist groups have endeavored to seize our client’s private property without compensation,” she said.
“While such tactics are commonplace in communist systems, they have never been tolerated in the American system where the U.S. Constitution precludes the government from simply taking private property and giving it to the public.”