Photo: Panoramio
Photo: Panoramio

CA Billionaire Wants US Supreme Court to Keep Public Off Beach

Vinod Khosla relentless in attempt to bar beach access

We’ve been over this about a million times. Vinod Khosla, extraordinarily wealthy billionaire, purchased Martin’s Beach, just south of Half Moon Bay, Calif., a few years back. He either didn’t know, or didn’t care, that the previous owners had let the public use the beach for decades, which, under California law, means the beach is effectively public. If the public has long had access to a place, a prescriptive easement essentially means the state considers the beach public.

Khosla, it is reported, does not live on the beach. But ever since he purchased the 89-acre property, he’s tried time and again to prevent the public from accessing it. A gate blocking the road in was permanently locked. A guard was stationed just outside. Ominous NO TRESPASSING signs were erected.

Surfrider and several other organizations have repeatedly taken Khosla to court and won, forcing him to allow the public in.

Most recently, the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 3-0 against Khosla, and pointed out he was violating the California Coastal Act by blocking public access to a beach that had long been effectively public.

But now, Khosla is appealing to the US Supreme Court, in a case that could potentially have wide-ranging implications.

"After all, (Khosla) is hardly the only private property owner along the vast California coast, or the only one who would prefer to exclude the public from its private property," his lawyers argued in their brief to the court.

Khosla, breathtakingly out of touch, does not seem to realize or to care that state law is there to keep the wealthy from buying up the beaches of California and keeping the public out. He either knowingly or ignorantly flaunted state law when he barred public access to Martin’s, and now, even though every state court has sided against him wants the feds to take the case, an act that could potentially have ramifications far beyond a sleepy central California beach.

"It was very much expected that when you have a billionaire who wants his own private beach at the expense of 39 million Californians," State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, told the San Jose Mercury News. "He will do anything to have a private beach and deny other people their right to enjoy the coast in California."

It’s worth noting that Khosla never applied for a permit when he denied access to the beach, which has been a major sticking point in legislative battles thus far. The entire case reads like an aggrieved billionaire furious at not getting his way.

"All of this song and dance about California taking his private property is utterly bogus," said Mark Massara, noted environmental rights attorney. "He refuses to even apply for a permit. This is the equivalent of saying I know the IRS is going to rip me off so I'm not even going to file a tax return."

The CA Supreme Court refused to take up the issue earlier this fall. It’s unknown whether or not SCOTUS will in the coming months. Khosla has hired some big names in the conservative lawyer circles to bolster his case, however.

The state has repeatedly tried to purchase the road leading to the beach from Khosla at fair market value, estimated at around $360,000. Khosla balked, asking for $30 million instead.

"This represents a threat not just to the California Coastal Act, but to coastal protection laws in other states," Massara told the Mercury News. "His argument is essentially that any private property owner can eliminate public access to any shoreline with no permits whatsoever. The net result would be that virtually anyone with sufficient financial resources could buy up coastal property in the United States and eliminate beach access."