Martins Beach: Coastal Commission joins lawsuit against Vinod Khosla

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By Aaron Kinney |

August 1, 2016 at 6:12 pm

HALF MOON BAY ¡X The California Coastal Commission has thrown its weight behind a lawsuit to force Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to restore public access to a secluded beach, attacking the main pillar of the investor¡¦s legal argument.

The commission announced Monday it has filed an amicus brief in support of the Surfrider Foundation¡¦s lawsuit against Khosla, who caused a public outcry in 2010 when he locked the gate at the top of a private road leading from Highway 1 down to Martins Beach, a picturesque cove south of Half Moon Bay.

Writing on behalf of the commission, the state Attorney General¡¦s Office backs Surfrider¡¦s claim that closing the gate required a coastal development permit, which Khosla never sought. The commission notes that development has a broad definition under the state¡¦s stringent Coastal Act and includes any activity that changes access to the water or intensity of its use.

The brief goes after Khosla¡¦s central thesis, that requiring him to obtain a permit to keep the public from crossing his land is a violation of his private property rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Mark Massara, an attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, said the document supports Surfrider¡¦s contention that Khosla can¡¦t claim his rights have been violated before knowing the outcome of the permit application.

¡§The attorney general¡¦s brief is an exhaustive examination of why Khosla¡¦s constitutional arguments are off-base,¡¨ said Massara, accusing Khosla of failing to ask for a permit because he doesn¡¦t think he¡¦ll like the Coastal Commission¡¦s response.

¡§And the attorney general points out that¡¦s ridiculous,¡¨ he said. ¡§It¡¦s the equivalent of saying, ¡¥I¡¦m not going to file a tax return because I don¡¦t believe the IRS will treat me fairly.’¡¨

Khosla¡¦s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

The green-tech investor bought the coastal property for $32.5 million in 2008 from a farming family that had allowed visitors to drive down to the beach for decades in exchange for a parking fee. He shut the gate in 2010, claiming it was a burden to provide access and the number of visitors was declining.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ruled in favor of Surfrider in December 2014. Khosla¡¦s lawyers appealed.

Martins Beach was once a popular destination for families from all over the Bay Area for fishing and recreation. Khosla has disrupted that tradition, said John Ainsworth, acting executive director of the commission.

¡§It¡¦s especially tragic that his refusal to comply with the Coastal Act is preventing those who have visited Martins Beach for generations from taking their families there for yet another year,¡¨ Ainsworth said in a statement.

In addition to the Surfrider suit, the State Lands Commission is attempting to purchase a public right of way from Khosla, though he has shown no willingness to sell an interest in his property.

And a second lawsuit to restore access, brought by a group called Friends of Martins Beach, is headed back to San Mateo County Superior Court for trial after an April decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.

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