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Martin's Beach

“Simply because you have enough money to buy the property next to the coast doesn’t mean you can keep the public out of what the public owns.” – Eric Buescher, attorney for the Surfrider Foundation.


The Inertia

Just seven miles south of California’s iconic Maverick’s exists a beautiful sanctuary for surfers, fishermen, and beachgoers. This dazzling little crescent-shaped bay named Martin’s Beach boasts a playful lefthand reef break with a dreamy beach and excellent fishing to top it off. There’s just one problem, though—no one is allowed to enjoy it. But that all may soon change. That is, if California is willing to cough up $30 million.

Back in 2008, billionaire Silicon Valley investor and Sun Microsystems Inc. co-founder, Vinod Khosla, bought the 89-acre spread. Soon after, Khosla closed the only road to the beach and replaced the “welcome” sign that sat on the corner of Highway 1 with an unsightly locked blockade and a few puppets in uniforms to prevent access to “his” beach.  Now, after several years of litigation, Khosla is putting a price on reopening the road: $30 million, an amount California’s State Lands Commission says is exorbitant and inflated, to say the least.

In 2015, the San Mateo County sheriff’s office released a statement that it will not be making arrests or issuing citations for trespass at Martin’s Beach, even though there are “No Trespassing” signs on the property. Photo: Georgia Wells for The Wall Street Journal

A stark contrast to the “welcome” sign that once existed under these warnings and white paint. Photo: Georgia Wells for The Wall Street Journal

Last February, Khosla’s lawyers sent a letter to California’s State Lands Commission with the offer. And by no surprise, the commission isn’t liking it too much, as the price is almost as much as Khosla paid for the entire stretch of land and beach ($37.5 million). The offer comes just shortly after Governor Jerry Brown stepped in and signed a bill that gave Mr. Khosla and the state lands commission until the end of 2015 to negotiate an agreement, otherwise the state is authorized to use eminent domain to allow public access to the beach.

“We do not agree with that value, and we believe the value is significantly less than that,” the commission’s executive officer, Jennifer Lucchesi, told the New York Times. “We have not seen any backup documentation to support the $30 million value.”

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Although Khosla purchased the land fair and square, surfers and land access activists are fighting back, arguing that they have a right to get to the beach.

“Simply because you have enough money to buy the property next to the coast doesn’t mean you can keep the public out of what the public owns,” says Eric Buescher, an attorney for the Surfrider Foundation.

Mr. Khosla and the lands commission’s inability to reach an agreement is just one example in the growing anxieties and problems associated with how extreme wealth of San Francisco and Silicon Valley are transforming the region. For example, home prices rose a staggering 8.6% in Half Moon Bay during the past year, according to Zillow. Meanwhile, overcrowded lineups and beaches remain a constant issue in California. Will the state exercise its right to use eminent domain? At what cost? It will be interesting to see how the state of California and Mr. Khosla handle their differences, as it will serve as framework to handle similar situations in the future.

 


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