Khosla must open beach-access gate, California court rules

After closing the beach-access gate near his coastal California property, Vinod Khosla must open it to the public, a state appeals court has ruled.

The First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Aug, 9 ruled 3-0 that closing the gate at his property near Martin’s Beach south of Half Moon Bay, which the previous owners had allowed to remain open, constitutes development under the California Coastal Act and requires a permit.

In its 50-page ruling, the court agreed with a previous decision by the San Mateo County Superior Court, ordering the venture capitalist and Sun Microsystems co-founder to open the gate to the public and pay $470,461.55 in attorney fees.

Vinod Khosla
Vinod Khosla arrives at San Mateo County Superior Court in 2014 to testify over the ongoing legal battle over public access to Martin’s Beach, a property which he purchased and subsequently closed the only access road to the private property. Reuters/Stephen Lam

“The overarching principle here is that the California coast is a public resource. This case is a vindication of the idea that you cannot, simply because you are incredibly wealthy, buy up land next to the coast and prevent the public from using and accessing the beach,” said Eric Buescher, an attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy representing the Surfrider Foundation, which brought the suit against Khosla.

The case could have implications for other legal disputes in the state between coastal landowners and public beach access advocates. An attorney for Khosla argued before the appellate court at a hearing in June that the previous court order to open the gate violated Khosla’s private property rights, as VCJ previously reported.

Khosla purchased the property in 2008 and thereafter closed the only road that allowed public access to Martin’s Beach. In 2013, the Surfrider Foundation brought suit against two of Khosla’s limited liability corporations that own the land.

Khosla is likely to appeal this week’s decision.

An attorney for Khosla did not immediately return a request for comment.

“We expect them [Khosla’s attorney] to take this as far and as high as they can in the court system,” Buescher said. Khosla’s attorneys will likely appeal the decision on the issue of taking, unconstitutionally seizing private property without just compensation.

And if Khosla refuses to comply with the court’s order to open the gate, “we would have to see what the recourse is,” Buescher said.

Photo of the gate on a private road barring access to Martins Beach by Kaitlyn Bartley.