Legendary Indian American entrepreneur Vinod Khosla ended his multi-year legal battle to keep Martins Beach private, as the U.S. Supreme Court said Oct. 1 that it would not hear his appeal.
The picturesque Martins Beach sits on the Northern California coastline near Half Moon Bay. Khosla, the founder of Sun Microsystems, bought the property above the beach in 2008 for $32.5 million. Two years later, he gated a small road which provides the only access to the beach, popular for many decades with local fishermen, surfers, and picnickers.
The California Coastal Act of 1976 mandates that all beaches in the state must be accessible to the public, up to the mean high tide line, the highest point at which waves crash to the shore. Khosla did not apply for a permit to change the density of use on the beach.
The Surfrider Foundation sued Khosla to keep the beach open to the public. The venture capitalist lost his case initially, then lost an appeal. The California Supreme Court last year declined to hear the case (see India-West story here).
Mark Massara, an attorney with the Surfrider Foundation, told India-West: “We are really thrilled. This closes the door on one phase of this battle.”
“The Supreme Court has validated our theory: ‘if you want to close down a beach in California, you have to get a permit.’”
Massara noted that Khosla could apply for a permit, but doubted he would be successful in obtaining a permit that would allow him to entirely shut off access to the beach.
In an interview with The New York Times in August, Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, expressed his interest in selling the property, a 47-acre parcel with a row of cottages on the shore.
“I see this as an opportunity to negotiate a solution,” Massara told India-West, noting that Khosla could sell the beach to the state to cover $20 million he has accrued in fines. “No cash needs to trade hands,” he said, noting that the state of California currently owns about 400 miles of its coastline. Massara said Khosla could likely get a tax credit for the sale.
Khosla’s attorney, Dori Yob Kilmer, told India-West by e-mail: “We are disappointed the United States Supreme Court decided not to hear this important case. No business owner should be forced to obtain a permit from the government to shut down a private business…or to change hours of operation.”
“No owner of private business should be forced to obtain a permit from the government before deciding who it wants to invite onto its property. However, we will comply with the decision of the California Court of Appeal and apply for the required permit. If denied, we will start this process over again,” she said.
Khosla told The New York Times this year: “If I were to ever win in the Supreme Court, I’d be depressed about it,” adding: “I support the Coastal Act; I don’t want to weaken it by winning. But property rights are even more important.”
Meanwhile, on the legislative front, California state Senator Jerry Hill has proposed seizing the area by eminent domain and creating a path from Highway 1 down to the beach. Hill has the support of Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who is running for the governor’s seat.
“Today marks the beginning of the final chapter at Martins Beach,” Hill told reporters gathered at Martins Beach after the Supreme Court’s decision was announced. The state senator, who represents San Mateo County in Northern California, noted there were now two options available to restore public access. Attorney General Javier Becerra can sue the landowner on behalf of the Coastal Commission. Or, the State Lands Commission can pursue eminent domain to purchase the road and sandy beach. “In this year’s budget we allocated a million dollars and created the Martins Beach account within the State Lands Commission so they could start their eminent domain proceeding,” said Hill.
“Today’s action by the court reminds us that the California Coastal Act’s promise of beach access for all is alive and strong. We’re one step closer to restoring public access at Martins Beach for future generations to enjoy.”
“This is California’s beach and together we can put it back in the public’s hands,” said Hill.