California beach access at Martins Beach

A photo of Martins Beach from simpler times, when nobody blocked access to the beach. Photo: Lars Rosengreen/Flickr

A Silicon Valley billionaire has struck a nerve in California’s ongoing debate about beach access by asking the state to pay him $30 million to allow the public to access the beach that his 53-acre beachfront property sits on, despite previous court rulings by the state that affirmed that access to California’s coastline is a public right.

As detailed by the New York Times, billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla purchased a 53-acre beachfront parcel just four miles south of the famed Half Moon Bay in 2008 for $37.5 million in 2008. That land includes the access points to a picturesque location known as Martins Beach which, according to California's State Lands Commission, had been a haven for the beach-going public.

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After initially allowing the public unabated access to the beach, Khosla locked the gate on Martins Beach Road in 2010, preventing cars and pedestrians from getting to the beach, even posting guards to make sure nobody could reach it. There was just one problem with all of that: It wasn’t exactly legal.

Per the Pacific Standard Magazine, the 1976 California Coastal Act made all beaches in California state-owned and put the California Coastal Commission (CCC) agency in charge of any decision that would regulate the public’s access to the beach.

And, in a December 2014 ruling, Judge Barbara J. Mallach of the San Mateo County Superior Court ruled against Khosla, stating that he had to open the beach to public access. But Khosla has appealed that decision, which was brought about by the Surfrider Foundation nonprofit organization, and continues to block access to Martins Beach Road.

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Now, however, Khosla’s lawyers have approached the state, offering to allow the public back on the access road for nearly the same amount that he bought his property for. Unsurprisingly, many people aren’t too happy about that.

“Surfrider Foundation is committed to defending our lower court victory and continuing the fight to re-open access at Martin's Beach,” the Surfrider Foundation said in a statement regarding his appeal.

“Quite simply, Khosla has violated California law under the Coastal Act and must apply for a permit for any ‘change in the intensity of use of water, or access thereto’ for the coastal land. He has refused to apply for this permit despite being told to do so by the Superior Court twice, including the court’s 2009 dismissal of Khosla’s lawsuit against the County for requiring a Coastal Development Permit.”

California beach access at Martins Beach

Another view of the picturesque Martins Beach. Photo: Franco Folini/Flickr

But Khosla’s lawyers claim there is almost no true demand to access the beach, and that given how much Khosla paid for his property, his price is extremely reasonable.

“The cost to acquire the property is significant and should be weighed against the benefits,” Dori L. Yob, Khosla’s lawyer, wrote in a letter to the CCC. “There is no vital link to navigable waters at issue. There is not a significant demand for access to the property.”

Previously, through statements made by his subsidiary companies, Khosla had accused the Surfrider Foundation of waging “class warfare” on him and overstating how much the public really desired to access Martins Beach.

In order to avoid a prolonged legal battle, the CCC has a year to negotiate terms to restore the public’s access to the beach through Martins Beach Road. If, at the end of that year, no deal has been made, the commission could theoretically resort to eminent domain, which allows the state to expropriate private property for public use.

It’s worth noting that Khosla doesn’t actually live at the property.

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