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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Billionaire Wants New Trial in Beach Access Saga

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (CN) - Billionaire Vinod Khosla moved for a new trial in his continued attempt to turn a popular surfing spot into his private beach, ignoring a judge's order to unlock and open the gate to the sandy inlet.

San Mateo County Judge Barbara Mallach ordered Khosla earlier this month to open the gate in her final ruling on the case. But Khosla shot back Wednesday night, alleging he was denied a fair trial.

Khosla claims irregularities, improper orders and "accident or surprises" prevented him from getting a fair trial.

Mallach ruled in September that Martins Beach LLC violated the California Coastal Act when it blocked a road that beachgoers had used for decades to get to Martins Beach.

Though not mentioned as a defendant in the lawsuit, the Surfrider Foundation identified billionaire mogul Vinod Khosla as the owner. Khosla was one of the founders of Sun Microsystems.

While the property owner claimed his actions did not constitute development under the California Coastal Act, Mallach disagreed and said he cannot bar access to the beach without a permit from the Coastal Commission, affirming her earlier findings.

In his motion for a new trial, Khosla's attorney cited "abuse of discretion by the court," meaning that the first go-round "materially affected the substantial rights of the moving party and prevented a fair trial," an "irregularity in the proceedings caused by plaintiff Surfrider Foundation" and an "accident or surprise, which ordinary prudence could not have guarded against."

Dori Yob, the attorney for Khosla, further claimed to have "newly discovered evidence" that could not have been discovered or produced at the first trial, according to the motion.

Yob works for the Hopkins & Carley firm in San Jose. She did not reply to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

Surfrider Foundation's legal director, Angela Howe, expressed surprise at Khosla's latest maneuver.

"We were very surprised to see Vinod Khosla's attorneys file a motion for a new trial," Howe said in an email to Courthouse News. "Judge Barbara Mallach held a full and fair trial during May and July of this year, with ample evidence put on by both sides and a fair outcome resulting. No matter what the legal mechanisms used by the other side, Surfrider Foundation is committed to taking every necessary action to have access reopened to this beloved beach."

Surfrider's attorneys also weighed in.

"We believe that Judge Mallach's decision was well-reasoned and supported by the evidence presented in the trial and look forward to continue to fight for the people of California and our clients," attorney Eric Buescher with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy told Courthouse News.

According to the original complaint, the property touching Martin's Beach was owned by the Deeney family for more than 100 years. They said the Deeneys had built 45 cabins and signed long-term leases to them. Media reports indicate the family also built parking lots, a store and restrooms and charged visitors $5 for beach access.

The California Coastal Act, enacted in 1976, tasked the California Coastal Commission with protecting coastal resources, including ensuring shoreline public access and recreation, and protecting marine habitat.

The 1972 California Coastal Zone Conservation Initiative made the entire coast public property, including all beach property up to the mean high-tide line.

Governor Jerry Brown in October signed a bill that would forcibly open the public access road even if Khosla managed to get a permit to deny the access.

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