Martins Beach billionaire evades questions on stand

San Francisco Chronicle

The billionaire landowner who bought a popular beach in San Mateo County and then locked out the public was evasive and uncooperative when questioned Monday about his decision, stating repeatedly he "did not recollect" conversations, letters or legal documents.

Vinod Khosla testified during the civil trial in San Mateo County Superior Court that he did not remember why he set up two limited liability companies to buy Martins Beach, what amount he paid for the property, when he bought it or why the decision was made to keep the public out.

The Silicon Valley venture capitalist remained calm but gave no ground during the intense questioning - sometimes tinged with disbelief and sarcasm - by the lead attorney for theSurfrider Foundation, which sued Khosla for blocking the only access road to the beach. Khosla explained that he never had a conversation about the property without his lawyers present, a strategy that allowed him to invoke attorney-client privilege for virtually every question whose answer he could recollect.

"I think this man does not go to the potty without his attorney being there," a frustratedJoe Cotchett, who is representing the surfer group, said after the hearing. "There was an arrogance there that defies common sense. ... He couldn't remember a thing. I would never say he was lying. I would only say that his recollection is not good."

The Surfrider Foundation has accused Khosla of flouting the California Coastal Act when he blocked the only road into Martins Beach, a sandy, 53-acre haven along the coastal cliffs about 6 miles south of Half Moon Bay.

Khosla's lawyers say the co-founder of Sun Microsystems has a right to keep trespassers off his property. The case, which is being heard by Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach, is seen by the plaintiffs as a challenge to the 1972 California Coastal Zone Conservation Initiative, which made the entire coast public property, including beaches below the mean high tide.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2013, accused the then-unidentified owner of the limited liability company of painting over a billboard welcoming people to the beach, putting up a locked gate in front of Martins Beach Road and hiring armed guards to keep people out - actions that Cotchett said constitute development and require permits from the California Coastal Commission.

Khosla, who is known for his backing of bold, eco-friendly projects and is a darling of some Democratic politicians, purchased the property for $37.5 million in 2008 under two LLCs. He kept his name out of the public eye while access was blocked and local politicians and surfers raised their objections.

The public is still allowed to use Martins Beach, but, because of the closed gate, the only way people can get there is from the ocean, which the surfing group claims is a violation of public access provisions in the coastal act.

Khosla was featured in a Vanity Fair article in 2007 that depicted him as a "Golden State Eco-Warrior" with two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. When questioned Monday he said he did not remember any conversations before purchasing Martins Beach in which he promised not to cut off public access.

He also said he did not remember e-mails and letters from the county, the court or politicians telling him that public access must be preserved.

"If I were to receive a letter like this, I probably wouldn't read it," Khosla testified, adding that he probably receives 1,000 letters like that a week. "I would forward it to be taken care of."

When questioned about what Cotchett claimed was Khosla's purpose for buying the beach - allegedly to build a private residence - Khosla said he never discussed any such plan "because I didn't have a purpose."... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)

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