Vinod Khosla Gets One Legal Victory in Martins Beach Access Case

The founder of Sun Microsystems has been embroiled in a controversy after he bought the 90-acre property, blocking public access to the beach.


Indian American billionaire and entrepreneur Vinod Khosla gained one legal victory as San Mateo county judge Steven Dylina found that there was no evidence that his Martin’s Beach property’s previous owners had granted a right of access to the public by displaying billboards and inviting visitors. The Superior Court of San Mateo county judge announced his ruling on Nov. 3 after conducting a nonjury trial in a suit filed by a group called Friends of Martin’s Beach, SFGate reported. No written decision has been issued by Dylina yet.

Earlier, in another case involving the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, California Supreme Court on Oct. 25 denied a hearing for Khosla’s appeal against a lower court’s order to open the Martin’s Beach near his property at Half Moon Bay, California, to the public. Khosla, the founder of Sun Microsystems and venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, can file his case with the U.S. Supreme Court within 90 days.

Khosla faces two lawsuits, one each by the Surfrider Foundation, and the Friends of Martin’s Beach. The latter sued Khosla for violating Article 10, Section 4 of the California Constitution regarding public access to navigable water.

The property surrounds Martin’s Beach road, which is the only access to the beach. According to California law, the beach should be accessible to the public and the previous owners of the property allowed entry to tourists in exchange for a parking fee. Khosla bought the 90-acre property in 2008 for $32.5 million, following which a gate was built and access to the beach was cut off.

California State Lands Commission made an offer to purchase an easement from Khosla in October 2015 but he did not accept it. Instead, he wanted a trade for another beach in California. In September 2016, Khosla sued California Coastal Commission, California State Lands Commission, San Mateo County Planning and Building Department, and individuals associated with these bodies for harassing and coercing him.

Khosla’s lawyers told the court in August 2017 that any interference by the state with his “right to exclude the public from private property” would amount to an unconstitutional confiscation of his land, and that he deserves to be compensated under the U.S. Supreme Court property-rights rulings.

On Aug. 9, the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District ruled that the trial court’s judgment in Surfrider’s favor is affirmed, and awarded costs on appeal. “This is not simply a win for surfers in San Mateo County,” said Surfrider’s Legal Director Angela Howe. “This is a win for all of the beach-going public that wish to enjoy California’s beautiful 1,100-mile coastline.”

“I think this man is so embarrassed by his conduct that somebody must have said to him, ‘Open the gate and let the courts figure it out down the line’,” Joseph Cotchett, the lead attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, said, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Currently, the gates to Martins Beach are open, and surfers, picnickers and fishermen have access to the area.

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