Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, announces his proposed legislation with Supervisor Don Horsley, Mike Wallace, Jonathan Bremer and Lennie Roberts at Martin's Beach Road in Half Moon Bay.
Julie Graves and Chris Adams hold signs in support of reopening Martin's Beach Road to the public.
State Sen. Jerry Hill introduced legislation Monday that he plans on using as a bargaining chip to force the billionaire owner of the Martin’s Beach property near Half Moon Bay to reinstate public access to the strip of beach otherwise blocked off by coastal bluffs and accessible only by boat.
Hill, D-San Mateo, proposed SB 968 which would require the State Lands Commission to negotiate with wealthy venture capitalist Vinod Khosla who bought the coveted and secluded cove in 2008 for $37.5 million and closed Martin’s Beach Road to the public. If no deal is met by Jan. 1, 2016, the state could use eminent domain for a portion of the property to reopen or create a new public road, Hill said.
“Today I proposed legislation to try and provide a pathway for compromise,” Hill said.
Hill said eminent domain is a last resort but, with Khosla and his attorneys refusing to respond, an appropriate use to uphold the state’s constitution and guarantee public access to the 1,100 miles of the California coast.
Although SB 968 specifically refers to the Martin’s Beach case, the law could affect other California properties under similar circumstances, Hill said.
The case earned national notoriety after a group of surfers, now known as Martin’s 5, were cited for trespassing after entering the property to surf the local break in October. The five surfers became advocates for the underlying issue of coastal access rights and after extending personal finances and time, Jonathan Bremer said he’s grateful to be given legislative support.
“We finally feel like we’re getting the support we actually need to change things,” Bremer said. “Fighting the battle ourselves, feels like we’re a very small fish in a very big pond.”
The criminal charges against Martin’s 5 were quickly dropped by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, but legal battles pitting the rights of private property owners against the public’s right to beach access continue.
Prior to Hill’s proposed legislation, the public filed suits alleging the closure of Martin’s Beach Road was unlawful. The Friends of Martin’s Beach filed a lawsuit citing the state’s constitution but the case was shot down last year when a judge ruled to uphold a 1848 law guaranteeing the recognition of Mexican land grants. The Surfrider Foundation sprung to action and initiated a suit accusing the property owner of violating the California Coastal Act by making alterations on the road without permits. That case is still pending.
Hill’s announcement came with applause from county officials and coastal activists who want to reinstate the public right-of-way to the secluded beach. Mike Wallace, a Half Moon Bay surf club coach and Surfrider spokesman, stood alongside Hill on Monday.
“In every step in this saga, Khosla has taken every step to be an unreasonable man,” Wallace said. “This is very disrespectful to the families who’ve been coming to this beach and had a love affair with [Martin’s Beach.]”
Supervisor Don Horsley held his children’s birthday parties at Martin’s Beach and hopes the public will be given the opportunity to frequent the unique strip of coast once again.
“I want to thank Senator Hill for introducing legislation to try … to get public access to, I think, one of the real treasures of the coastside,” Horsley said.
Julie Graves has been a regular at Martin’s Beach for years and is appalled by the Khosla’s decision to close off a portion of the coast that’s been open to the public for a century.
“This guy’s not the 1 percent, he’s the .01 percent. This is emblematic of the inequality and monetization of the coast,” Graves said. “We’ve got to preserve what we’ve got. Because once [coastal properties] go into development or get cut off to the public, they never go back.”
Greta Waterman bought a 10-year lease on the contested property and is surprised the public and state officials are questioning the rights of private property owners.
“This is private property. I paid for that. I had no idea how problematic my sense of privacy and private property would become,” Waterman said.
She enjoys watching people surf and thinks a limited flow of people might be feasible but wonders who the state expects will pay for road maintenance and public accommodations such as parking and restrooms.
Chris Adams visited Martin’s Beach every year for decades until the road was closed off. The property owner said he recognizes an individual’s entitlement to their land but Khosla has gone too far, Adams said.
“He has a right to have a house on the beach, he bought the property. But he should not deny access to the beach to the citizens of California,” Adams said.
Kyle Foley, another Martin’s 5 surfer, didn’t intend on becoming the center of a political debate but he’s happy to continue with the fight and grateful with the increased support the cause is receiving.
“This was definitely not an altruistic act of civil disobedience,” Foley said. “We just wanted to go surfing on a Sunday morning.”
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