Surfers Sue for Access to Billionaire’s Beach

Surfers Sue for Access to Billionaire’s Beach

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Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla was the target of a lawsuit filed March 12 by a national organization that aims to gain access to Martin’s Beach, near Half Moon Bay in Northern California.

The suit does not name Khosla as the owner of the property that abuts the historically-significant beach — which was open for many decades to surfers, smelt fishermen and picnicking families — but instead names Martin’s Beach, LLC.

NBC News reported that Khosla was named as the owner of the property in a separate lawsuit.

Mike Wallace, a spokesman for the Surfrider Foundation, told India-West the national organization has been working on this issue for three years and learned whilst researching the case that Khosla was the owner of the 89-acre property above the crescent-shaped beach. Several local newspapers have also reported that Khosla – an Indian American clean-tech energy entrepreneur and co-founder of Sun Microsystems – is the owner of the property.

“There’s a huge cross-section of people who want to access the beach. It is a hidden jewel,” said Wallace.

Mark Massara, one of the attorneys representing the Foundation, told India-West he has surfed at Martin’s Beach for decades. “It’s one of the best sandy beaches in the area, very scenic and the surfing is great.”

“It is not acceptable, not legal. You can’t just buy huge properties and eviscerate previous agreements,” he said.

“It would be easy to resolve this issue by developing a parking lot on the south end of the beach, and owners and the public would never have to see each other.”

“Vinod wouldn’t even have to pay for the parking lot,” said Massara, noting that there is a state fund to support beach access.

Khosla did not return calls to messages left by this reporter with his assistant at Khosla Ventures, nor did he return an e-mail by press deadline. His attorney, Joan Gallo, also did not return several calls.

At issue is not the beach itself – which is protected by the California Coastal Act – but the land above it, specifically a small asphalt road that provides the only access to the beach. In 2009, shortly after the sale of the property, a gate was built on the road at the entrance to the beach, and signs were put up, warning against trespassing. A sign on Highway 1 directing people to Martin’s Beach was painted over. Security guards patrol the area and citations are issued to those who violate the “No Trespassing” sign by jumping over the gate.

The California Coastal Act of 1976 mandates that all beaches are public. “There are no private beaches in California,” asserted Linda Locklin, a spokeswoman for the Coastal Access Program of the California Coastal Commission, adding that the California public owns all beaches to their “mean high tideline” level, the area at which waves crash the shoreline.

The Coastal Act requires maximum public beach access whenever possible, she explained to India-West, noting that any restriction of beach access requires a permit from the commission. Neither Khosla nor Martin’s Beach LLC have applied for such a permit, said Locklin.

“In this case, you cannot get to the beach without walking on (Khosla’s) land. We have told him he has changed the ‘intensity of use’ and must apply for a permit,” she said.

The Coastal Commission and San Mateo County have each issued citations against Khosla, which have racked up to about $20 million in fines, estimated Massara, adding that a court order was issued in 2009 to take down obstructions to the beach.

Massara has worked on several high-profile cases related to beach access, including a lawsuit against Dreamworks co-founder David Geffen, who sought to limit access to his Malibu Beach house.

Martin’s Beach was sold to the holding company in 2008 by Rich Deeney, whose family had owned the property for more than 150 years. Deeney sold the picturesque property for $40 million, reported the Surfplus newsletter, with the stipulation that cabin dwellers who have leased the land be allowed to remain until 2021. Wallace of the Surfrider Foundation told India-West he could not speculate whether the cabins would be torn down in 2021 to make room for large-scale development.

Wallace said he wrote a letter to Khosla in 2010, citing the legendary venture capitalist’s interest in green and clean technology and stating “we should be playing for the same team.”

“It is particularly galling that in his personal life, he is not approaching it the same way,” he charged.

Khosla has made public his distaste for environmentalists, stating that they are a bane to the growth of clean technology. “They get in the way with silly stuff like asking people to walk more, drive less. That is an increment of 1 to 2 percent change. We need 1,000 percent change if billions of people in China and India are to enjoy a Western, energy-rich lifestyle,” he said in a 2011 interview with The Economist.