In 2008, Sun Microsystems co-founder and wealthy VC Vinod Khosla bought a beachfront property in California’s Half Moon Bay for $US37.5 million,
reports the LA Times’ Lee Romney.
He promptly installed a locked gate and security guards on the only road to that allowed access to the beach, barring the public from a popular hang-out spot for surfers, fishermen and picnickers, Romney reports.
Cliffs on either side block off this spot, known as Martin’s Beach, so the road on Khosla’s property was the only way in, unless you swim there.
He shouldn’t be able to do that. Owners of beachfront property are required by California law to allow the public to get to the beach.
Naturally, lawsuits ensued and for one of them Khosla just came out the winner when a San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled in his favour.
The judge ruled that because the land was part of a land grant in 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (upheld in 1859 by the U.S. Supreme Court), the land is exempt from the beach access state law.
The judge’s logic? The land grant came before the California state constitution.
The people suing Khosla are going to appeal, but if this ruling stands, there could be all sorts of other wealthy landowners in California wondering if they can use the same rule to block the public from other beaches, too.
Mark Massara, an attorney for the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, which has a separate lawsuit pending against Khosla, has asked the California Attorney General’s office to step in. He told the LA Times:
“It gets really absurd,” he said. “Why not exempt all modern law” from applying to coastal rancho properties.
Massara used a different argument for the Surfrider’s lawsuit. He says Khosla needed to get a permit from Coastal Commission to install that locked gate. As part of the suit, Khosla tried to get the judge simply to declare that he didn’t have to allow the public to access Martin’s Beach, but the judge refused to rule on that until Khosla got the permit. According Massara, Khosla still hasn’t applied for a permit.
“If Khosla doesn’t agree with the Coastal Commission’s rules then he is free to sue the Coastal Commission. But if you don’t apply for a permit at all, then you’re just a violator,” Massara said.