A Silicon Valley billionaire is fighting to make a beloved beach near his $37 million estate off-limits to the public -- and he's taking his case to the Supreme Court

TechCrunch / FlickrVinod Khosla wants his public beach back.

The battle between tech titan Vinod Khosla and California activists is heating up.

This week, Khosla filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court to overturn a 2017 ruling that forced him to open public access to a California beach that surrounds his shorefront property.

In 2008, Khosla – who made his fortune as an investor and one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems – paid a reported $US37 million for an 89-acre parcel near Half Moon Bay, about an hour south of San Francisco. For many decades, surfers and families had enjoyed the beach, which is known for its stunning geological formations, picnic areas, and ideal surfing waves.

When Khosla closed the gate to Martins Beach in 2010, locals revolted. A California appeals court later ruled that Khosla violated state law when he blocked the public from accessing the beach and forced him to reopen it. Now he’s taking his case to the nation’s highest court.

Here’s what we know about Martins Beach.

The path to Martins Beach has long been gated. The previous owners of the shorefront property kept the gate opened and charged between $US2 and $US10 for parking nearby.

Surfers and sunbathers came from all over the Bay Area to visit this short stretch of the coastline. It once had a restaurant and a convenience store that catered to visitors.

“It’s a family beach that was open to the community for generations,” Angela Howe, legal director for the Surfrider Foundation, told Business Insider in 2014.

lrosengreen / FlickrVisitors fish and picnic at Martins Beach in this undated photo.

Source: Business Insider

“That’s the most egregious offence here,” Howe continued.

Source: Business Insider

In 2008, Khosla descended on the tiny beach town. He paid a reported $US37.5 million for his property. The path that provides access to Martins Beach passes through land he owns.

A few months after the purchase, a padlock was put up to close the gate so vehicles could not drive down to the beach. Signs forbidding entry were posted, though people can still walk around the gate.

In 2012, a group of five surfers were arrested for trespassing when they ignored Khosla’s signs, walked down, and paddled out into the water. The charges were later dropped.

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The incident started a national outcry — and litigation.

The Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit that works to protect beach access rights, filed suit in 2013. A San Mateo County judge ruled against Khosla and ordered him to open the gate.

The judge said that Khosla had to seek a permit from the California Coastal Commission before cutting off public access. That group instead threatened fines against Khosla.

Under state law, the California Coastal Commission – which was created in 1972 to maximise public access to state beaches – can fine people who build without permits along the coast or block public access to beaches up to $US11,250 per day, or $US4.1 million per year, up to five years.

The commission told Khosla in September 2017 that his several violations could cost him over $US20 million in penalties, if he did not cooperate. No fines have been leveled against him.

In 2017, a California appeals court ruled 3-0 that Khosla violated state law when he blocked the public from accessing the beach without a permit. It upheld the earlier ruling.

Attorneys for the tech titan have said the gate will stay open on certain days from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to a spokesperson for the California Coastal Commission.

One local said he saw an attendant charging $US10 for parking at Martin’s Beach in late 2017.

Source: The Mercury News

But the battle between Khosla and activists isn’t over yet. Khosla has asked the US Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that his property rights are being violated.

He also wants to be compensated $US30 million by the state to provide beach access on his land.

Attorneys for Khosla told the high court that the California Coastal Commission is stretching a state law to allow a “taking” of Khosla’s property, in violation of his constitutional rights.

“No property right is more fundamental than the right to exclude,” lawyers for Khosla said.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to take the case. Each year it receives 7,000 petitions to review cases and it hears only about 100 to 150, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

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