The First District Appeals Court in San Francisco ruled unanimously on Thursday that reclusive billionaire Vinod Khosla must re-open the public accessway to Martins Beach, the small slice of coastal real estate the tech investor purchased back in 2008. Quick backstory: Khosla bought Martins Beach from a family that had owned the property for decades (read more about the Martins’ closure and public beach access here). And for decades, the family had allowed the public free access along a narrow road leading to the beach. When Khosla bought the land, he closed off access, which, whether knowingly or unknowingly, meant he was violating the Coastal Act by preventing public entry that had been enjoyed for many, many years.
If Khosla had purchased a piece of land that didn’t have a long history of public access, he’d be in the clear. But California law includes a provision to preserve public access, called a “prescriptive easement.” Basically, if the public has long had access to a natural resource like a beach, a new property owner cannot revoke that access, even if it’s on private property.
Khosla had already lost a case once, back in 2014, when the San Mateo County Superior Court ruled that he must allow people in. He appealed, and the case landed in the First District Appeals Court.
The Surfrider Foundation went to bat versus Khosla over the access issue.
“This is one of the most important issues of the day," Surfrider attorney Joe Cotchett told the San Jose Mercury News. "Can wealthy individuals buy up our beautiful beaches and say, 'Screw you, you can't walk to the water any more?'"
Khosla, who doesn’t live on the property and who has been very vocal that he’s spending tens of millions of dollars (and costing CA taxpayers the same) to keep the access gates closed purely out of principle, is expected to appeal further. Don’t be surprised to see this case eventually wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.