Martins Beach owner Vinod Khosla sues California panels, San Mateo County

By Aaron Kinney | |

PUBLISHED: October 16, 2016 at 6:35 pm | UPDATED: October 23, 2016 at 7:52 am

HALF MOON BAY “” Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has opened yet another front in the long-running legal war over public access to his coastal property, Martins Beach, this time accusing a pair of powerful state agencies of violating his constitutional rights.

Attorneys for the billionaire investor filed a lawsuit in federal court late last month against the California Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission and San Mateo County, accusing them of violating his right under the 14th Amendment to equal protection under the law.

The suit, filed Sept. 30, claims there is “a concerted effort by state and local officials to single out, coerce and harass one coastal property and its owner for refusing to cede its private property rights.”

Khosla claims the defendants have gone after him for “purely personal and political reasons” ever since he decided, in 2010, to break with a decadeslong practice under previous owners of allowing the public to drive down to the water at Martins Beach in exchange for a parking fee.

San Mateo County and the Coastal Commission have told Khosla that locking his gate off Highway 1, because it changes the public’s ability to reach the shore, constitutes development under the Coastal Act, and the businessman must seek a coastal development permit. He has yet to do so.

The lawsuit argues that no other coastal property owners, including the previous owners, the Deeney family, have been subjected to similar scrutiny. Representatives for the Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, and San Mateo County declined to comment on the suit.

Mark Massara, an attorney for the Surfrider Foundation in one of two lawsuits seeking to restore public access to Martins Beach, a secluded cove just south of Half Moon Bay, called the suit “a laundry list of whining and complaining.”

“I just don’t get these guys,” he said. “The amount of time and money and effort they’re spending, and all they’re doing is blowing smoke.”

Besides arguing that Khosla’s constitutional rights have been violated, the suit appears to ask the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco to strike as unconstitutional a legal statute granting the State Lands Commission, which governs California’s tidal lands, the power to purchase property from private owners.

The commission, under a law authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, was engaged in negotiations through this spring to buy a public right of way from Khosla. The status of those negotiations, which have not produced an agreement, was unclear Sunday.

In an email, Dori Yob, an attorney for Khosla, said the property owner had no choice but to file a federal suit to seek protection from the defendants.

“We, as a matter of principle, are opposed to state and local officials using coercion and harassment to “˜take’ private property rights,” she said. “This is exactly what certain staff of the Coastal Commission and other state agencies have done “” engaged in a campaign to extract private property rights from a property owner through extra-judicial harassing and coercive behavior.”

Khosla’s critics argue he still hasn’t taken basic steps to resolve the conflict at the state and local levels.

“They had an opportunity to negotiate with the state in good faith,” said Massara, “and they blew it off.”