HALF MOON BAY (CBS SF) — A years-long battle over public access to a popular Peninsula beach has moved to a new level as the state of California has filed suit against a Silicon Valley billionaire who is blocking the only road to the beach.
The California Coastal Commission and State Lands Commission is suing Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, claiming he is “improperly and illegally” restricting access to Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay.
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Khosla to remove a gate on the access road leading to the beach and remove “no trespassing” signs in the area. Khosla purchased the 88 acres surrounding the beach in 2008 for $32.5 million and later blocked the public from accessing it, claiming he owns the road leading to the beach and the state is infringing on his property rights.
According to the complaint, the public has enjoyed using the beach and accessing the road leading to it for generations before Khosla bought the property and as such, the public has a right to continued access under a long-established legal precedent.
“This is a particularly special and beautiful beach that had been open to the public for generation after generation for close to 100 years,” said Alex Helperin of the California Coastal Commission.
The commission collected evidence from more than 200 families who used the beach dating back to the early 1900s.
“The public’s extensive and continuous use of Martin’s Beach (via the access road) as a public beach, without any interruption at least since the 1920s and for about a century, establishes that the public has rights to access and use Martin’s Beach under the doctrine of implied dedication,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit comes just over a month after an appeals court sided with Khosla in a separate lawsuit by environmental groups, ruling that since previous owners were charging a parking fee, that implied permitted use, not public use.
The fight over the beach access prompted several lawsuits and gained nationwide attention, with the case seen as setting a precedent over whether wealthy landowners can block off access to stretches of the California shoreline.
Khosla has not yet responded to the latest lawsuit.
In a rare interview with KPIX in 2018, Khosla said, “We need a coastal commission that works with property owners to follow the law.”
His attorney told the Mercury News on Monday that the claims in the state’s lawsuit have been repeatedly rejected by the courts in a previous lawsuit.
But the tide may turn for Khosla if the court rules in the commission’s favor. But the agency doesn’t expect a decision for months.
”The negotiations have, unfortunately, not borne fruit and so we’re turning to the courts to settle the legal dispute,” said Helperin. “It’s been very painful for a lot of people, and that’s the kind of historical use that we expect the court to take very seriously when we present our evidence.”
KPIX 5’s Maria Medina contributed to this report.