With Supreme Court challenge, tech billionaire could dismantle beach access rights — and a landmark coastal law

Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

Khosla's arguments, while ambitious, are "artfully drafted in an effort to capture the attention of at least four justices," said Richard Frank, director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at the University of California, Davis. "This petition is targeted directly at the conservative wing of the United States Supreme Court, and it certainly is plausible that the court could grant review in this case given the quality of representation and the issues involved."

The issues date back to 2008, when Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, bought the 89-acre property south of Half Moon Bay for $32.5 million.

The Deeney family that sold Martins Beach had, for almost a century, maintained a public bathroom, parking lot, even a general store. Surfers, fishermen and picnickers paid 25 cents to enter. The fee eventually went up to $10.

Khosla, in legal filings, said he "was willing to give the business a go, and continued to allow members of the public to access the property upon payment of a fee. But (he) soon faced the same problem the Deeneys had faced: The business was operating at a considerable loss, as the costs of keeping the beach, the parking lot and other facilities in operable and safe condition significantly exceeded the fees the business generated."

So he shut the gate, hired security and posted "do not enter" signs.

A number of public interest groups have since sued Khosla. He, in turn, has sued the California Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission and San Mateo County, over what he considered an interference of his property rights.

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A San Mateo County Superior Court judge, however, dismissed his case, stating that he had to go through the commission's permit process or enforcement proceedings before he could resort to a lawsuit.

The Surfrider lawsuit, now before the Supreme Court, had challenged Khosla on the grounds of not applying for the development permit required to change public access to the coastline. A state appeals court upheld a lower court decision that Khosla must unlock the gate while the dispute continues.

Nowadays, the gate is sometimes open, sometimes closed. Sheriff's officials have said it would not arrest members of the public for trespassing. The Coastal Commission last fall began the formal process of notifying Khosla of public access violations, which could amount to fines of as much as $11,250 per day per violation.

The commission, not an official party to the Surfrider suit, said it is reviewing Khosla's appeal to the Supreme Court. The state attorney general's office said it was aware of the petition and provided no additional comment.


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