Since 2010, surfers and other beach goers have been locked out of Martins Beach, a picturesque little cove 25 miles south of San Francisco, California. Vinod Khosla, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, is estimated to have a net worth of $1.5 billion and bought an 89 acre property that fronts Martins Beach in 2008 for $32.5 million. Then two years later he decided to close the only public access point, which was a small road that leads to the beach.
The family who owned the property prior to Khosla had allowed the public to use that road—for a small fee (this seems fair given that the family would of had to maintain the road that was constantly being trampled on). Khosla followed in their footsteps at first, but in 2010 he decided to shut people out completely by erecting a gate blocking the road to Martins, painting over a welcome billboard on Pacific Coast Highway, and posting guards, saying the liability costs were too high, despite being warned by the county that the road should stay open.
That’s not cool – personally I think that all coastal beaches should be publicly owned and sufficient public rights of way designated as free access points.
It seems that a judge in San Mateo County agrees with me and ruled that Khosla had illegally blocked the right of way to Martins Beach. Judge Barbara Mallach ruled that Khosla must reopen the access road, though she rejected the damages sought by Surfrider Foundation, which sued the billionaire, seeking $15,000 for each day the road was closed, or $20 million.
“It’s a fabulous victory for the people of California because now their coast is safe,” said Joe Cotchett, lead attorney for Surfrider. “Those people who wanted to roll back the California Coastal Act must now live by the law, and money cannot change that.”
The case hinged on a technical interpretation of the word “develop” — Surfrider argued that California Coastal Act rules requiring a development permit included significant changes to “intensity of use,” not just whether something physical was built or altered, and the judge agreed. Previous land owners allowed access, dating back at least to the 1950s, and Khosla’s action dramatically altered that “intensity.”
Khosla’s attorneys issued a statement that said, “We are disappointed with the court’s decision and will consider our options for appealing the ruling.”
You can read the judge’s ruling here.
Let us know what you think in the comments.