Billionaire makes final push to bar public access to Martin's Beach

July 16, 2014
Los Angeles Times

A San Mateo County Superior Court judge heard closing arguments Wednesday in the latest battle over access through private land to a beloved beach — one that could lead to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Among the questions raised that are likely to be further contested: whether a private property owner can be compelled to provide public beach access just because his predecessor did, and whether the California Coastal Commission is within constitutional bounds when it negotiates for such access in exchange for coastal development permits.

The case involves Martin's Beach, south of Half Moon Bay, which for decades was visited by thousands of locals who picnicked, surfed and fished for smelt in its protective cove.

The former owners granted beachgoers their only way to the beach by land — via a dirt road — and charged a small fee for parking. But two years after billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla acquired the parcels in 2008 his manager locked the gate, painted over a sign that had beckoned Highway 1 travelers and posted security guards to ward off trespassers.

He did so despite being told by county planning officials, the Coastal Commission and a different San Mateo County Superior Court in 2009 that he needed to seek a coastal development permit if any of his actions were to change the "intensity of use" of the water or access to it.

The judge in that proceeding also told him he could not challenge the access issue in court until he had sought the permit.

The nonprofit Surfrider Foundation sued last year on narrow grounds, contending that Khosla intentionally flouted that administrative process. The foundation is asking that the co-founder of Sun Microsystems known for his alternative energy investments be fined the maximum of $15,000 a day dating back to the October 2010 gate closure — an amount that would total about $20 million.

"They knew what they were required to do," attorney Eric Buescher, representing Surfrider, told Judge Barbara J. Mallach. "They intentionally declined."

Added attorney Joe Cotchett, while pressing for penalties: "Somehow, somewhere, justice has to rain down on this individual, Mr. Khosla, and force him to go to the Coastal Commission and unlock that gate."

Khosla's attorney, Jeffrey Essner, argued that his client did not engage in "development" that necessitated a permit, despite the opinions of local and state officials to the contrary.

The gate predates the Coastal Act of 1976, he said, and was locked and unlocked at the previous owner's discretion. Nothing in the law points to the existence — or elimination — of signage or guards as development, he added.

Essner also contended that Khosla's private property rights under the 5th Amendment are being violated. Essner called the Coastal Commission "a runaway regulatory body" that engages in "coercion and extortion."... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)