Lawsuits Hit High Tide After Billionaire Tries to Prevent Access to Well-Loved Beach

Martin’s Beach was once a popular spot in which to relax, surf, and fish. The family who owned the property let people enjoy the tranquil beach near Half Moon Bay for nearly 100 years before selling the property in 2008.

But while the previous family had added amenities such as parking, a store, and restrooms, the buyer, billionaire Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems, tried to block access to the beach instead.

The Surfrider Foundation and a group called Friends of Martin’s Beach have filed lawsuits, demanding that the beach remain open to the public. Khosla himself has filed suits as well against the California Coastal Commission, San Mateo County, and the State Lands Commission. One lawsuit alleges harassment on the part of government martins-beach-lawsuit-friends-quoteagencies. Khosla claims he’s been singled out.

Central to the issue is whether Khosla has cut off access to two particular parcels of land. He’s been accused of closing down an access road in winter, and the California Coastal Commission and San Mateo County tried to keep the road open. Khosla’s lawsuit against the two agencies in 2009 was dismissed on the grounds that Khosla had not gone through enforcement procedures or the permitting process before filing the lawsuit. In 2012, after a group of surfers were arrested for trespassing on the land, Friends of Martin’s Beach sued Khosla for public access to the beach.

Since then, the road has remained closed to car traffic but open to foot traffic. The courts have gone back and forth between allowing and denying right of access, though later rulings have centered on how the beach was privately owned before the concept of public access became law. One ruling, however, in 2013, stated that since Khosla had not gotten a coastal development permit before closing off the beach, his restrictions were illegal.

Khosla’s latest lawsuit claims the County and Commissions never intervened in anything the previous family did when they tried to develop part of the land. The suit also notes that other restricted beach areas have not received the same treatment as Martin’s Beach.