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California Sues Billionaire Over Beach Access

Because getting sand between your toes shouldn’t be about how big your bank account is.

// Jan 8, 2020
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The State of California kicked off 2020 by filing a lawsuit against a billionaire who’s trying to privatize a slice of cold-water paradise. Flush with Silicon Valley cash, for the last decade Vinod Khosla has endeavored to exclude the public from Martins Beach in San Mateo County—a short drive from Maverick’s. California ain’t having it anymore. 

Without getting too lost in the legal weeds, the battle for Matins Beach has been going on for several years with numerous lawsuits filed against Khosla by environmental and public-interest groups. The issue was believed to be settled in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Surfrider Foundation and Khosla was told he had to open the beach. But at the end of 2019 an appeals court in San Mateo County ruled in favor of Khosla. So here we are. 

This newest lawsuit was filed by the California State Coastal Commission in San Mateo County Superior Court. It is based on the 1976 California Coastal Act that affords the public access to all of California’s beaches. 

“This case goes to the heart of California’s public access mandate,” the Coastal Commission’s Steve Padilla said in a L.A. Times story. “We cannot allow this to be chipped away each time someone purchases beachfront property — it’s a dangerous precedent for the future of public access in California.”

Khosla is the co-founder of Sun Microsystems. In 2008 he bought the 89-acre Northern California property for $32.5 million. Shortly thereafter he closed the parking lot, which had been open to the public for years prior and posted “do not enter” signs. Locals weren’t stoked and that’s when the legal battles began. 

Further south, surfers in the Ventura/Santa Barbara zone should pay special attention to this case as the eventual decision could factor into what happens with Hollister Ranch. Last October, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that private surf utopia that is “the Ranch” will be forced to open to the public by 2022. No doubt that gate’s not going to open without some legal fireworks. 

This flurry of legal activity by the State of California appears to be targeted at some of the longest running battles for coastal access. It’s probably a good thing for the workaday surfers that have been excluded from surf breaks because they were blessed with an epic real estate portfolio. On the other hand, if you’re one of those lucky few with a key, you’re probably pretty bummed. Either way, it’s going to be interesting to see how the Gold State courts shake things up.  

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