Court to Decide Public Access Issue for Khosla’s Martins Beach

July 23, 2014
India West

In closing arguments for a case which pits billionaire Vinod Khosla against a small group of surfers and fishermen, attorneys for the legendary Indian American venture capitalist argued July 16 that the disputed Martins Beach on the Northern California coastline was protected by private property rights.

“We are proud Californians deeply committed to our state’s environmental legacy: resource protection, coastal and ocean management. But, like most Californians, we also firmly believe in the fundamental principle of private property rights — and the notion that one should not be allowed to wholly supplant the other,” Jeffrey Essner, a lawyer for Khosla, said in San Mateo County District Court in Redwood City, Calif.

Essner characterized the suit — brought on by the Surfrider Foundation in 2013 — as “mob behavior and bureaucratic over-reach.”

“Unfortunately, the opponents in the case have demonstrated little interest in the facts, the history of this land or the legal principles at stake. They’ve refused to collaborate and they’ve refused to negotiate,” stated Essner in court. “All they offer are threats and litigation and the cynical rhetoric of class warfare, when all they really want is to permanently and irreparably upset the balance between public access and private property rights in our state,” said the attorney, adding: “The fact is the public had access but the opponents wanted a public fight, not a public solution.”

“This issue has nothing to do with the environment which at MartinsBeach needs protection, not more surfers,” he stated.

Mark Massara, an attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, scoffed at Khosla’s declaration of “class warfare.”

“He’s taking a very diffident position, saying he’s being persecuted by surfers and the California Coastal Commission,” Massara told India-West.

The Surfrider suit requires Khosla to obtain the permit necessary to change the land usage of Martins Beach, and to pay a fine of $15,000 a day — about $30 million total.

San Mateo District Court Judge Barbara Ballach has 90 days to make her ruling. Massara said he believes the judge will require Khosla to obtain the necessary licenses.

“But what is an appropriate fine for a billionaire who refuses to comply with the law?” queried Massara.

In 2008, Khosla bought Martins Beach — a popular spot for locals to picnic and fish. Shortly after buying the beach, the only access road was closed, and a locked gate appeared. Security guards initially roamed the beach, warning trespassers to stay off.

The California Coastal Act of 1976 mandates that all state beaches must have public access to the fullest extent possible. The California public owns all beaches to their “mean high tideline” level, the area at which waves crash the shoreline; there are no private beaches in the state, according to the California Coastal Commission. Any land use change requires permission from the Coastal Commission.

The Surfrider Foundation contends in its suit that Khosla never applied for a permit, even after hearing of the suit. In rare court testimony last May, Khosla said he was never aware he was required to get a permit.

The Indian American entrepreneur testified that his property manager Steven Baugher would have been responsible for any decisions regarding access to Martins Beach.

“Mr. Baugher is the operating manager of the property and he makes those decisions,” Khosla said. “I would assume he makes decisions and when the gate is open he closes it. I’m presuming he made that decision. I did not instruct him to do that.”... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)