Anyone interested in going to a secluded beach just south of Half Moon Bay can do so after the billionaire property owner seemingly allowed the long-shut gate to be open to the public.
But the legal battle that led up to this point does not seem to be over, according to attorney Joe Cotchett, whose firm represents the Surfrider Foundation, the organization that filed a lawsuit contending Vinod Khosla violated the California Coastal Act when he locked the gates soon after purchasing the property.
“I’m obviously delighted that Khosla finally recognized he’s worked through the legal system and lost all the way,” Cotchett said, “and the public finally has access to the beach.”
Cotchett pointed out there is a charge of $5 to $10 to drive a car, which is fine with him as that was done before Khosla owned the property, but that also people are free to walk down the long strip of road to the beach.
The beach in question has been subject of legal wrangling for years. Most recently, the California Coastal Commission ordered Khosla, a tech billionaire and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, to open the gates or pay fines that could have added up to $20 million. The commission also ordered that the no trespassing signs be removed, but Cotchett said they are still there. In September, the commission sent a letter to Khosla’s attorneys that the state regulatory agency was finally poised to take action. In the letter, the commission bolstered its arguments with a recent state appellate court ruling upholding the Surfrider Foundation’s lawsuit contending Khosla violated the Coastal Act. The state appellate and local superior courts agreed changing the public’s use of the water constitutes development under the Coastal Act. He was also found to have engaged in unpermitted development such as painting over welcome signs and putting up no trespassing signs.
Khosla purchased the 89-acre property for $32 million in 2008 before closing the gates a few years later to a site that was once open to the public for nearly a century with former owners charging a parking fee.
Khosla’s attorneys contend their client is a man of principle unwilling to be coerced out of his vested property rights. Attorney Dori Yob, in a blog post she directed the Daily Journal to as a response to a request for comment, said “state bills by pandering politicians” and “media vilification campaigns” will not resolve a dispute about constitutional property rights.
In September, Khosla filed a request to state Supreme Court asking it to review the Surfrider case. He has also filed a federal lawsuit against the Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission and San Mateo County for violating his constitutional property rights. While the government agencies sought to dismiss that case, it’s believed Khosla aims to take the matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gov. Jerry Brown is now being asked to sign legislation by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which would enable the state to raise funds and purchase access through eminent domain. The State Lands Commission spent two years attempting to negotiate with Khosla’s attorneys for a 6.4-acre easement winding along an existing road and down to the beach. An appraisal estimated it was worth $360,000, to which Khosla’s attorney countered it was worth $30 million.
Negotiations haven’t borne fruit in the past, prompting the numerous lawsuits and state legislation aimed at purchasing an easement.
The Coastal Commission only recently received authority to levy administrative penalties, following Brown’s approval of a 2014 law. Now, it could seek up to $11,250 for each violation every day for up to five years. On top of the beach closure violations, the letter notes Khosla received an emergency permit to install revetment to protect his property on the condition he later apply for a coastal development permit — which was never submitted.