Silicon Valley Billionaire Is Ignoring A Judge's Order To Open The Beach He Blocked

Vinod khoslaStephen Lam / REUTERSVenture capitalist Vinod Khosla arrives at San Mateo County Superior Court.

One week after San Mateo County Court Judge Barbara Mallach issued an order for billionaire Vinod Khosla to open access to Martin’s Beach, a gate leading down to the shore remains closed. 

The Surfrider Foundation first filed suit against Khosla in March 2013, claiming that the billionaire was in violation of the California Coastal Act when he failed to obtain a permit before locking a gate leading down to the beach and posting signs forbidding entry. 

Khosla, a prominent venture capitalist and cofounder of Sun Microsystems, purchased a 53-acre parcel adjacent to the northern California beach for $US37.5 million in 2008.

Judge Mallach ruled against Khosla in September, saying that he changed the nature of public access at the beach without obtaining the necessary permits from the California Coastal Commission.

Last week, the judge issued a final order stating that Khosla must immediately restore public access to the beach as it was when he first purchased the property.

According to testimony at this summer’s trial, the family that previously owned the property kept the parking lot 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.

Still, one week after Judge Mallach’s final order, the gate outside Martin’s Beach hasn’t been opened, and none of the forbidding signs has been taken down. 

“Judge Mallach very clearly said Friday that this gate needs to be open. Saturday through Wednesday — that gate has been closed every day,” Eric Buescher, a lawyer representing Surfrider in the case, said to Business Insider. California was hit by a powerful storm that left thousands without power Thursday. “Yesterday and today, given the storm, that I understand.”

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

Khosla and his legal team appealed Judge Mallach’s initial ruling, saying that as long as they don’t arrest anyone who walks around the gate, it’s not a violation of the California Coastal Act. Mallach rejected this claim because the gate had been left open under previous owners. 

“In the history of Martin’s Beach, as described by visitors who have come here for years and as described by guidebooks, it’s always been a place you could go even if you were elderly, or handicapped, or not very mobile. That’s not really the case if the gate is closed,” Buescher said. “It also deters people who might not know it’s their right to go there even though there’s a gate. It’s not fair to the public.” 

If Khosla doesn’t open the gate within the next few days, one of two things could happen. In a letter sent to Khosla’s property manager on Monday, the California Coastal Commission said that if the gate is not opened within two weeks, it can exercise its right to issue fines. If he applies for a permit, Khosla could negotiate terms with the commission. 

“Issues such as the maintenance of parking at Martins Beach, the upkeep of public restrooms and other facilities, or liability issues are exactly the issues that can be addressed by working with the Commission on a long-term solution, in consultation with other applicable agencies and public access groups,” commission enforcement analyst Peter Allen wrote in the letter. “We remain ready and willing to craft such terms for a solution to resolve your Coastal Act violations, and restore public access to Martins Beach similar to the form in which it has historically existed.” 

The Surfrider legal team could also go back to Judge Mallach, point out that the gate is still locked, and see what action she thinks is appropriate.

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