Martins Beach open for the summer

Beachgoers enjoy the day at Martins Beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Thursday, July 2, 2015. The gates to the beach that have been sporadically closed were open on Thursday. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)

Beachgoers enjoy the day at Martins Beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Thursday, July 2, 2015. The gates to the beach that have been sporadically closed were open on Thursday. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)

By Aaron Kinney

Bay Area News Group

HALF MOON BAY >> Grab your surfboards and fishing poles: Martins Beach is open for the summer.

After shutting out the public for most of the past four years, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla apparently has decided to allow people to visit the scenic and secluded San Mateo County strand for the next two or three months. More than a dozen people gathered at the beach Thursday to surf and fish.

Attorney Eric Buescher, whose firm won a lawsuit against Khosla over public access to Martins Beach, applauded the move and called it a victory for the community.

“It probably reflects that they are coming to grips with the reality that they are going to have to comply with the law like everybody else,” Buescher said of Khosla’s management team.

The beach has been open most days since at least June 20, according to interviews and social media accounts. But when a reporter for this newspaper visited June 25 and again Wednesday, the gate was locked.

On Thursday, however, the gate off Highway 1 was open. A man collecting the $10 parking fee said the beach will be open from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days this summer, depending on the availability of toll collectors.

So there is no way “” at least for now “” for visitors to know in advance whether the gate at the top of Martins Beach will be open on a given day. That unpredictability appears to fall short of what San Mateo County Judge Barbara Mallach ordered in December, according to Buescher.

“Our interpretation of the judge’s order is that the beach should be open every day,” said Buescher, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

Khosla’s representatives have not responded to multiple emails about the status of the beach this summer.

Riki Philips, 53, was fishing for smelt and striped bass Thursday with a small group of friends. Philips said he grew up in Fremont but spent entire summers at a cabin along Martins Beach as a boy.

“We’d get home on the last day of school and the car would be packed,” said Philips, who now lives in Arizona. “We’d head up here for the summer and come back the day before school started. Those were the days.”

Other visitors Thursday included a Sacramento family of four. The father, who declined to give his name, was teaching his two elementary school-age children how to fish from the surf. The man said Martins Beach is where his own father taught him how to cast a fishing line.

Thursday’s visitors agreed that the smelt fishing was much better during the beach’s heyday in the 1970s and that the beach has receded due to coastal erosion, which has eaten away a sandy shelf that was once used for parking.

The reopening of Martins Beach is the latest development in a long and complicated battle over the public’s right to cross private property to reach tidal land, which typically belongs to the state of California.

Mallach ruled seven months ago that Khosla, who bought the 89-acre coastside property in 2008, must allow the public to visit the beach in exchange for a parking fee, as was the practice for most of the 20th century. He complied for about a month. After the person who collected the parking fee was threatened by at least one visitor, however, Khosla’s team closed the beach.

Shortly after Mallach’s decision, the California Coastal Commission began threatening to fine Khosla if he did not provide the same access as his predecessors. The commission has exchanged letters with Khosla’s attorneys but has yet to issue any fines.

In an April 27 letter to the commission, Khosla attorney Dori Yob wrote that the owner was planning to open the beach during the summer months, once new toll takers were hired.

“In the spirit of good faith, we are willing to try once again to open the property to allow paid visitors on the same terms that the property was historically operated,” Yob wrote.

Meanwhile, Mallach’s ruling and a second lawsuit over public access to the beach are under appeal. And Khosla’s team is in discussions with the State Lands Commission, which is attempting to purchase a permanent public access route to the beach from Khosla, in accordance with a law written by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown. If the negotiations fail, the commission may seek to use eminent domain to buy access to the water and beach.

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at