Billionaire Vinod Khosla clams up on Martins Beach decisions

May 12, 2014
San Jose Mercury News

Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla spoke publicly for the first time Monday about the controversial decision to shut down public access to a popular beach on the edge of his property, but successfully parried attempts to pin responsibility for the closure on him.

Speaking calmly with little evident emotion and dressed in black, the Silicon Valley tycoon withstood more than an hour of probing questions from attorney Joe Cotchett, whose powerful firm is representing the Surfrider Foundation in one of the most important disputes over California coastal access in recent history. Khosla repeatedly told a San Mateo County Superior Court judge he didn't recall conversations about Martins Beach, and on many occasions invoked attorney-client privilege to avoid answering questions.

"I was dumbfounded at the lack of ability to explain and remember," Cotchett said afterward outside the Redwood City courtroom.

For the Surfrider Foundation and environmentalists, the decision to close Martins Beach after decades of enjoyment by the public is a dangerous assault on the California Coastal Act. Cotchett claims Khosla's attorneys have indicated they will appeal the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, in defense of their client's constitutional private property rights. Khosla and his attorneys declined to comment after the hearing.

The controversy began in 2010, two years after Khosla purchased the 89-acre Martins Beach property for $37.5 million, a deal he tried to keep secret for years. Breaking with the decades-long practice of allowing paid access to the water, the new owner closed the gate on a private road off Highway 1 leading to the idyllic beach.

Permanently locking the gate changed the public's access to the water, and the intensity of its use, according to the Surfrider Foundation. That qualifies as development under state coastal law, they argue, and required a permit from the California Coastal Commission.

Khosla never sought a development permit. His lawyers argue there has been no development, so he doesn't need one.

Surfers, environmentalists and others who are fighting to reopen the beach fear Khosla plans to build an estate there once the leases on several dozen cabins expire, giving him an incentive to limit access. His attorneys claim he simply wants to establish that he cannot be forced to allow people on the property.

He is not the first wealthy landowner to come under fire over coastal access; music mogul David Geffen and other Malibu beachfront property owners waged and lost a similar battle a decade ago... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)