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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Pandering Politicians’ or Not, the Beach Is Open

SACRAMENTO (CN) - California will forcibly open a public access road to a Bay Area beach even if reported owner Vinod Khosla manages to get a permit to deny that access, thanks to a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed Tuesday.

The bill, SB 968, requires the State Lands Commission to enter into negotiations with the owner of the Martins Beach Property, widely reported to be billionaire Khosla, to acquire a public right-of-way to a specified public access route to the beach.

Should an agreement prove impossible, the bill would authorize the commission to "acquire" the right-of-way by eminent domain.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said in a statement: "The governor continued his lifelong commitment to protecting California's environment and making it accessible to all members of the public by signing Senate Bill 968. I urge Vinod Khosla to sit down with the State Lands Commission and negotiate a solution as soon as possible so the public can once again enjoy Martins Beach."

The brouhaha started when Khosla put up a gate in 2008 to block the only access to Martin's Beach in Half Moon Bay, hired armed guards to intimidate would-be visitors and covered up a public sign stating that the beach was open to the public.

The Surfrider Foundation sued Martins Beach 1 LLC and Martins Beach 2 LLC last year. In the ensuing bench trial, the San Mateo County Court visited the beach and found that some people were still using it, in spite of a blocked-off road and signs that told them to stay out.

Though the property owners claimed that their actions did not constitute development under the California Coastal Act, Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach disagreed and ruled last week that they cannot bar access to the beach without a permit from the Coastal Commission, for which the defendants had not applied after claiming they were told any application would be rejected.

That ruling is tentative.

With Hill's bill signed into law, even if the California Coastal Commission granted Khosla a permit to allow him to block public access to the beach, he would face having the right-of-way imposed by eminent domain.

San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley said: "I greatly appreciate State Sen. Hill's persistent pursuit to protect public right of access at Martins Beach. This iconic San Mateo County landmark has been enjoyed by residents and visitors alike for over 100 years and this legislation affords us the opportunity to regain public access. I am grateful to Governor Brown for signing this legislation and reaffirming that California's beaches belong to California's residents."

Dori Yob, an attorney for Khosla, 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."

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.

The plaintiffs had 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.

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