Brown Vetoes Bid to Fund Beach Path on Billionaire’s Land

The defining feature of Martins Beach rises from coastline as several beachgoers walk through the sand. (Matthew Renda/CNS)

(CN) – California Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill to create a state fund for the eventual purchase for a right of way to Martins Beach, which stands at the center of a fight between public coastal access and property rights involving a Silicon Valley billionaire.

In his veto message on Sunday, Brown said the bill failed to carry out the intent of the author and instead constrained the state’s ability to effectively deal with public access issues.

“This bill precludes the use of eminent domain in this instance and limits the state’s options,” Brown wrote.

He also deferred to the California Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission and the courts that are currently adjudicating the matter, saying those processes need to be given ample latitude to play out. But he came down decidedly on the side of those who are advocating for the public’s right to access Martins Beach.

“Public access to our state beaches and parks is a core value to this state and must be protected,” he said.

Vinod Khosla, a billionaire co-founder of Sun Microsystems, purchased property in 2008 that boasts several rental cabins. The property lies between Route 1 and the long slender Martins Beach, with its characteristic rock features jutting out of the water. It’s about 7 miles south of Half Moon Bay on a particularly picturesque section of California’s northern coast.

Many nearby residents say they have been using the beach for years, and that soon after Khosla bought the property he built a gate and locked out access to the beach.

The Surfrider Foundation sued Martins Beach LLC in state court, saying the installation of the gate was a violation of the Coastal Act and would have required a permit by the California Coastal Commission.

The Coastal Commission has essentially endorsed the nonprofit’s position, just last month threatening to fine Khosla $11,000 per day and as much as $4 million per year unless he opens the gate immediately.

Meanwhile, a state appeals court ruled unanimously in August that Khosla needs a coastal development permit in order to close the gate. He was ordered to open the gate immediately.

Khosla, who has long maintained the case is about protecting property rights from government overreach, responded with apparent defiance – keeping the gate closed until Friday when it was finally opened. He has also filed a petition to the California Supreme Court.

The gate opening was celebrated by many public-access advocates, including Surfrider Foundation, who also cautioned that Khosla has only agreed to partial access.

A local resident and her son skirt the gate at Martins Beach that is a source of contention between the owner of the road and the state of California. (Matthew Renda/CNS)

“Regarding the gate, we have only seen sporadic openings – word is that Khosla’s people informed Coastal Commission staff that they’d swing the gate wide from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on ‘certain days,’” Jennifer Savage, California policy manager for Surfrider, wrote on the organization’s website over the weekend. “This does not constitute adherence to the California Coastal Act, which requires full, regular, dependable access.”

The organization’s San Mateo chapter said it heard the gate was closed by 5 p.m. on Sunday.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo whose district includes Martins Beach, wrote the bill vetoed by Brown. He expressed disappointment that his bill was not signed into law, saying his legislative solution could have ended the court war that may drag on for years.

“It’s disappointing that Californians will not have the opportunity provided by SB 42 to contribute to a permanent solution for public access at Martin’s Beach,” Hill said in a statement issued Sunday night. “My goal with the legislation was to provide a quicker resolution to open the gate instead of waiting several more years for the landowner and his unlimited legal resources to appeal this all the way to the United States Supreme Court.”

The bill intended to set aside a 6.5-acre parcel on Khosla’s 89-acre property which would have functioned as a public right-of-way. It also provided various ways of funding the taking.

The California State Lands Commission has the right to exercise eminent domain, but lacks the funding mechanism to do so.

Along with the Surfrider Foundation, a group called Friends of Martin’s Beach sued Khosla’s company in San Mateo Superior Court. They claim the property owners before Khosla dedicated the road to the public.

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30.

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