Beach owner claims threats: Martin’s Beach manager says he’s received death threats, wants approval to ban public

January 29, 2015
San Mateo Daily Journal

Attorneys representing Martin’s Beach are seeking a judge’s approval to close the contested property to the public citing evidence that visitors have trespassed, engaged in vandalism and even made death threats against the property manager.

Martin’s Beach LLCs filed a motion Monday requesting a stay — or suspension of enforcement — of a county judge’s December ruling to reopen the property as it had been before venture capitalist Vinod Khosla bought it for $32.5 million in 2008.

At the same time, the owner of the secluded coastal property is seeking a new trial to defend against the lawsuit won by the Surfrider Foundation, which asserted Khosla violated the California Coastal Act by putting up no trespassing signs and deterring the public from the crescent shape property that was once accessible for nearly 100 years.

According to the motion filed Monday, property manager Jim Deeney has struggled to keep Martin’s Beach open on select days and has contacted the FBI as well as the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to report threats made against him in person and on social media.

“More recently, the on-site property manager, Jim Deeney, was approached by a man who pointed his right hand at Mr. Deeney, as if holding a gun, and yelled ‘I’m going to come back and shoot your ass!’ before speeding off,” according to the motion.

Deeney also alleges vandals broke chains and damaged the widely contested gate that’s been at the heart of the litigation.

Surfrider representatives condemned the alleged threats but maintained it’s unfair for the property owner to cite the poor behavior of a few individuals as reason to disregard the law and punish the public.

“That’s certainly not conduct Surfrider promotes or condones,” said Eric Buescher, an attorney representing Surfrider with the firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. “If what they’re saying is true, that’s certainly inappropriate behavior. But I don’t think that has much to do with whether the defendants are required to comply with the law. This is not a situation where they can say we don’t have to comply with the law because somebody else is acting like an idiot.”

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ordered the property owner to “cease preventing the public from accessing and using the water, beach and coast at Martin’s Beach” until he secure a coastal development permit when she ruled in Surfrider’s favor last year.

The defendant argues they’ve followed the court’s orders by allowing visitors to drive down and park for $10 when someone is available to collect the fee.

Deeney has attempted to forbid visitors from walking to the beach from Highway 1 and short of driving by, there appears to be no schedule for the public to confirm when Martin’s Beach might be open.

According to the motion, individuals have ignored Deeney’s requests, walked to the beach, engaged in unsafe behavior, spent the night, brought alcohol and the Sheriff’s Office is refusing to prosecute trespassers.

No citations

Yet even if Khosla’s motion is granted and Mallach’s ruling is put on hold, it’s unclear whether that would be of any assurance to the district attorney and sheriff.

The Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office stated they will not be issuing or prosecuting trespassing citations while Martin’s Beach remains the subject of litigation or until there is clear direction from the court.

However, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement of its philosophy that it will use its discretion to investigate or make arrests related to crimes that occur at the contested beach.

Surfrider contends the property owner should apply for a coastal permit to iron out the terms and conditions of access, that could then be upheld by the Sheriff’s Office, before complaining about law enforcement’s refusal to cite while litigation drags on.

Prohibitive versus mandatory judgment

The defendant’s motion for a stay of judgment simultaneously revealed their plans to appeal the case should their Dec. 16 request for a new trial be denied. While the law typically provides an automatic suspension of a mandatory judgment during an appeal, enforcement of a prohibitive judgment customarily remains through the appeals process.

Surfrider argues Mallach’s ruling is prohibitive as it requires Khosla to stop excluding the public, which constitutes illegal development under the coastal act.

Martin’s Beach attorneys argue the owner had to take affirmative action by reopening the beach and infers that Mallach’s ruling should be put on hold during an appeal.

Buescher said the appeals process could take years and the defendant’s claim that the public wouldn’t be burdened by the closure of the beach is a glaring example of the property owner’s disconnect with the community.

“It represents their attitude on this entire issue. That ‘this is ours and if we close it, too bad.’ The idea that that doesn’t harm anybody, I think, is just misguided and misreads the purpose of the Coastal Act and the public’s interest in the property,” Buescher said... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)