HALF MOON BAY (KPIX 5) — A Silicon Valley billionaire is speaking out for the first time and defending himself over the beach battle that’s made national headlines.
Entrepreneur Vinod Khosla is fighting to keep surfers off his property and challenging the state’s demands to open up access to Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay.
The dispute is over a gate that blocks the only public path to the picturesque stretch of shoreline. In August, a San Francisco appeals court ruled Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, broke state law when he blocked public access to the beach after buying a $32.5 million beachfront property in 2008. The state Supreme Court rejected Khosla’s appeal in October
However in November, a Superior Court judge ruled there was no evidence the previous owners intended to grant a public right of access to the beach despite signage directing people to Martins Beach Road.
And in February, Khosla asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeals court ruling, claiming California courts incorrectly ruled owners of private beachfront property need to obtain a permit before blocking public access through the property.
“Well it’s simply a matter of principle,” said Khosla on Friday, offering his first public comments on the issue, which he says is not about beach access but private property rights.
Khosla also published a blog defending his position and criticizing what he called unfair media coverage. “I want to share my views here and dare you to understand the facts,” he says in the blog. “I feel coerced and extorted, hence the fight.”
“Do you know open beach access has never existed on that property ever?” said Khosla. He noted the former owners only allowed access to people who paid for parking. It was a business.
But when Khosla bought it, he said the state Coastal Commission told him he couldn’t make basic business decisions, things like changing hours of operation or the $10 fee.
“And do you know the courts have ruled there is no public access?” said Khosla.
In a separate suit, the Surfrider Foundation argues even if it is private property, if he wants to close the gate or charge more for parking, such actions are considered development, for which Khosla should have to get a permit.
“Yeah, just like everybody else,” said Robert Coughlan of the Surfrider Foundation.
Even though it’s his own private property? “Yeah, even if it’s your own private car you’ve got to get a driver’s license,” said Coughlan, who maintains the issue is about access. “The surfers just want access to the ocean.”
Khosla argues the state could have bought the property itself, instead of letting him buy it and then restricting his rights.
“I think he knew everything he was getting into. He’s got smart lawyers,” said Coughlan.
If Khosla prevails in the Supreme Court, the decision could ultimately affect the entire California coast.
When asked if such a scenario bothered him Khosla said, “It absolutely bothers me, but we need a coastal commission that works with property owners to follow the law.”
Khosla says he doesn’t want to restrict access, but he reiterated it’s a matter of principle. “You know sometimes I’d rather do the harder right thing than the easier wrong thing.”
Khosla said he offered to keep the property open on the same terms as the previous owners but that the county refused. Khosla has also previously offered to sell the state an easement which would allow public access – for $30 million, almost what he paid for the entire 90-acre property.
The Surfrider Foundation said it doesn’t believe the U.S. Supreme Court will ever actually hear the case.