Sunday, September 24, 2023
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Surfers Out of Luck After Land Owner Built Fence

SAN MATEO, Calif. (CN) - A wealthy California man can block surfers and beachgoers from accessing the public beach his property abuts, a judge ruled.

In a lawsuit earlier this year, the Surfrider Foundation claimed that Martins Beach 1 and Martins Beach 2 LLC illegally blocked an access road that beachgoers had used for decades to access Martins Beach in Half Moon Bay.

While the suit did not name the people behind the Martin's Beach LLCs, several news organizations later identified the principal owner as Vinod Khosla, a 57-year-old billionaire venture capitalist who helped found Sun Microsystems.

Khosla reportedly bought the property in 2008 from the Deeney family, owners of the land for the last hundred years. Media reports indicate the family had built 45 cabins and signed long-term leases to them. They also built parking lots, a store and restrooms, and charged visitors $5 for beach access.

"Fencing and natural geographic constraints" make Martin's Beach Road the only beach access route, according to the complaint.

The new owner of Martins Beach 1 allegedly cut that route off, however, by erecting a gate and hiring armed guards to intimidate would-be visitors.

A sign that said the beach was open for public access is now covered up, and a new sign says "BEACH CLOSED KEEP OUT."

The nonprofit claims the landowner or landowners violated the California Coastal Act, which requires anyone who wants to develop land in the coastal zone to get a permit.

Judge Gerald Buchwald of the San Mateo County Superior Court granted the defendants summary judgment last week after hearing oral arguments, meaning Khosla can legally block the only road to the beach.

Media reports indicate that beachgoers are still allowed to use the 200-acre beach - they just have to access it from the ocean.

Dori Yob, attorney for the defendants, told Courthouse News that "the ownership is pleased that the issue of property ownership and access has been finally resolved in its favor. As the court pointed out in its ruling, to rule otherwise would be completely contrary to the whole structure of eminent domain law and would constitute an unlawful taking under state and federal law." Yob is a partner with Hopkins & Carley in San Jose.

Attorneys who filed a lawsuit on behalf of Friends of Martins Beach reportedly intend to appeal, arguing that the ruling violates beach access rights under the California Constitution.

The plaintiffs are represented by Gary Redenbacher of Redenbacher & Brown in Scotts Valley. Redenbacher declined a request from Courthouse News for comment.

The judge ordered the defendants to prepare a written decision consistent with his ruling. The plaintiffs will then have an opportunity to object to the prepared document, after which Buchwald will issue his final written decision.

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