Billionaire Khosla Passes Buck in Beach Access Case

Wall Street Journal

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said he isn’t responsible for blocking access to a Northern California beach favored by surfers, a controversial move that triggered a court fight.

Khosla said Monday that his property manager likely decided to close a gate and install armed guards to prevent people getting to the beach, during testimony in a civil case that focuses on the public’s right to access the California coastline.

Khosla, a silver-haired billionaire who co-founded Sun Microsystems and has been an early backer of environmentally friendly startups, appeared in San Mateo County Superior Court wearing a black jacket, dark shirt and pants.

The case involves Martins Beach, a sandy 53-acre stretch of coastline about 35 miles south of San Francisco that had been popular for surfing, fishing and other recreation. Khosla bought property adjacent to the beach in 2008 and blocked the only road to the area, leaving it accessible only by the sea.

In 2013, the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation sued Martins Beach I and II LLCs, the vehicles used by Khosla to buy the property. It alleged they violated the California Coastal Act, which designates the state’s coast as public property.

(The venture capitalist had kept his purchase of the beach-front property private through the LLCs. The deal closed in 2008 and access was blocked soon after. However, it was not until 2011 that the Surfrider Foundation tracked down a connection to Khosla,according to the San Jose Mercury News.)

Khosla’s attorneys, led by Jeffrey Essner, have argued that the previous owners of the property charged a fee to access the beach, so the public never had a right to access the beach freely.

Joe Cotchett, the lawyer representing Surfrider, peppered Khosla with questions about his intentions for the property, what he knew about access to the beach and whether he told Steven Baugher, the manager of the Martins Beach property companies, to lock the gate and post armed guards there.

“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.”

Cotchett asked if the gate was locked to prevent access to the beach.

“Mr. Baugher makes decisions on the purpose of locking and unlocking the gate. The reason why any gate is locked is to restrict access. That’s a general statement about gates,” Khosla replied... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)

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