Thursday, September 28, 2023
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Judge Wants Gate to Martins Beach Opened

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (CN) - Billionaire Vinod Khosla's attempt to turn a popular surfing spot into his private beach suffered a further blow Friday when a California judge ordered him to unlock and open the gate that leads to the sandy crescent-shaped inlet.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach's order was her final ruling on the case that pitted surfers and beachgoers against the wealthy private landowner.

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.

Mallach's final judgment affirmed her earlier findings and ordered Martins Beach 1 and 2 LLC to "cease preventing the public from accessing and using the water, beach and coast at Martins Beach" until the California Coastal Commission and San Mateo County decide on the development permit.

Mallach ruled that "the gate across Martins Beach Road must be unlocked and open to the same extent that it was unlocked and open at the time defendants purchased the property."

Surfrider attorney Joe Cotchett of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, said: "It has been a long struggle, but the public access has been preserved thanks to our judicial system."

Angela Howe, legal director for Surfrider, told Courthouse News: "Surfrider thinks justice was served with this order. And the provisions of the Coastal Act will be upheld. Now the gates must be opened as they were when the Deeneys owned the property before Vinod Khosla took over the property. We're thankful for the judgment and we're looking forward to opening fair beach access at Martins Beach."

The plaintiffs noted that 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.

At the time, Khosla's attorney Dori Yob told Courthouse News: "The bill is about private property rights and we intend to keep fighting for our rights. The state did not want to purchase the property when it was marketed for sale. Pandering politicians now want rights for which the state did not want to pay."Yob did not reply to a request for comment on Friday's ruling.

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