On Monday, February 10, 2014 the litigious tussle for access to Martin’s Beach just ten minutes south of Half Moon Bay, California, took a distinctly positive political turn. From a podium in front of the closed gate in front of press corps and beach access advocates, State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) introduced legislation to reclaim access permanently. This would require the State Lands Commission to negotiate with reclusive owner and “green venture capitalist” billionaire Vinod Khosla to reach an access agreement no later than January 1, 2016, or else face the seizure of “all or part” of the 200 acre property by eminent domain. In practical terms, this means the state may buy the access road in the interest of the public (the only way in and out of the beach) and compensate the owner.
This comes following Khosla’s purchase of the property in 2008 for $33.75 million with the full knowledge that San Mateo County required that public access be maintained after a 100 years of surfing, tide pooling, fishing, BBQs and creating family memories. He promptly closed the gate, painted over the welcome sign, planted blocking trees and posted “Keep Out, No Beach Access” signs, which violated the Coastal Act and required permits from the County, which he sued along with the Coastal Commission.
This was followed by two counter-suits by the “Friends of Martin’s Beach” citing violations of the state constitution and a Surfrider-sponsored action that requires him to seek permits for the actions above or face more than $20 million in fines for violations of the California Coastal Act. A conservative judge ruled in favor of the property owner in the Friends suit, citing Mexican land laws from the 1850s, which is being appealed and the Surfrider suit is ongoing. The proposed use of eminent domain is a significant development that could protect state and public interests in beach and wetlands access that define California’s way of life and culture.
At the press conference, I said, “I would like to express my deep gratitude to Senator Hill and Supervisor Horsley for introducing this legislation to reopen public access to Martin’s Beach. For as long as I can remember, these two gentlemen have had the best interest of the San Mateo Coastside at heart. Public access to the beach in California is enshrined in the California Constitution and cannot be taken for granted, blocked, sold or diluted. I’m very pleased that our leaders understand and embrace that view, long held by the Surfrider Foundation.
Owner Vinod Khosla has adopted, as his mantra, a quote from George Bernard Shaw: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’ We would agree that at every step in this saga, Khosla has proven to be an “unreasonable man.” He has hidden his ownership behind LLCs and filed multiple preemptive lawsuits against the County, Planning Department and Coastal Commission. Offered a way out through direct negotiations, he has chosen hostility and obfuscation at every turn. This is very disrespectful of the local community and families, who have had a love affair for over a century with the unique Martin’s Beach.
We would argue that a more neighborly and respectful approach would better serve Khosla in the long run on the coast. We can be an inscrutable, tough and stubborn lot. Long months of dreary fog, raw seas and multiple wave hold-downs make us even more tenacious. But we can also be quite friendly and loyal when you get to know us, taking great pride in our coast. I would answer with this George Bernard Shaw quote of my own: ‘The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them – that’s the essence of inhumanity.’”
For more on the issue of public beach access at Martin’s Beach, check out Martin’s 5: Battle for the Beach.