A Silicon Valley Billionaire Could Be Forced To Sell His Walkway To The Beach

As the new year begins, so does a new chapter in the battle over a stretch of California beach whose access point has been blocked by Vinod Khosla, venture capitalist and billionaire cofounder of Sun Microsystems.

Khosla has long been mired in lawsuits regarding a public-access point at Martins Beach, a small surfer’s haven just south of Half Moon Bay. In the latest turn, he could be forced to sell his land to the state.

In 2008, Khosla purchased a 53-acre property adjacent to the beach for $US37.5 million. A few months after Khosla made the purchase, a gate leading from the Pacific Coast Highway down to the parking lot was locked, and signs forbidding entry were posted. 

In September, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ruled that Khosla must seek a permit from the California Coastal Commission before locking the gates that lead down to the beach. Failing to obtain a permit before changing the nature of public access to a beach was found to be a violation of the California Coastal Act. 

Surfrider Foundation, an environmental organisation with strong ties to Martins Beach, first filed suit against Khosla in March 2013, with most of the arguments in the case taking place last summer.

But now Khosla must consult with another state commission regarding the situation at the gate. 

A law signed by California Governor Jerry Brown in October officially went into effect on January 1, requiring the State Lands Commission to immediately start negotiations with Khosla. 

The law, which was introduced by State Senator Jerry Hill last February, requires the Lands Commission to consult with San Mateo County and other local officials on whether the management of the road and public parking lots should be taken away from Khosla.

If the commission doesn’t reach an agreement with Khosla by December 31, the new law says that the commission can exercise eminent domain to force a sale of the right-of-way path on Khosla’s property.

Martin's beachAnneliese Agren @coastroadThe gate leading down to Martins Beach.

Meanwhile, the gate leading down the path to the beach has only been open sporadically. 

According to testimony at this summer’s trial, the family that previously owned the property kept the gate open every day of the year, unless there was inclement weather or a private event was taking place. The family charged $US2 to park at the beach, which also once had a restaurant and convenience store that catered to visitors.

With a concrete year-end deadline, the new law could prove to be a faster solution than resolving the Surfrider lawsuit.

In December, Khosla filed a motion to throw out Mallach’s order to reopen access to the beach. Khosla is seeking a new trial, claiming “irregularity in the proceedings of the Court,” “improper orders of the Court,” and”abuse of discretion by the Court,” among other complaints. 

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Khosla’s lawyers have been considering an appeal to the case that would preserve the billionaire’s property rights.

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