Martins Beach and Coastal Access: What’s Next?

U.S. Supreme Court rejected property rights appeal in October, but the saga over public access to the beach isn’t necessarily over.

STATEWIDE — A billionaire’s attempt to “privatize” a stretch of beach along the Central California coast was shot down when the U.S. Supreme Court in early October. The decision to not hear the case of entrepreneur Vinod Khosla was viewed as a victory for anyone and everyone who likes visiting California’s beaches.

The ongoing legal battle pitting Khosla’s private property rights against the public’s guaranteed access to California’s waterways isn’t quite over, as there is still a chance the billionaire magnate from Silicon Valley could take this matter back to court. The last remaining question is whether Khosla will allow the public to access Martins Beach through his property or instead seek a California Coastal Commission permit to keep people out.

Khosla’s pursuit to protect his private property rights will be a continued challenge on California’s Coastal Act, which strictly regulates private use of the state’s waterways. The Coastal Act is an extension of California’s constitution, which guarantees the public’s access to the beach. Coastal access, of course, is a mainstay for anglers, boaters and kayakers, meaning they are affected by whatever happens with Khosla’s fight – assuming it continues.

A pathway from a road to the beach serves as the heart of the conflict. The path runs through Khosla’s property and, for decades, had been used by the public to access Martins Beach. There is a gate at the beginning of the pathway. Whether the gate could be used to prevent or restrict public access to the beach will be the subject of what happens next.

Of course this whole saga could be over if Khosla takes the Supreme Court rejection at face value and keeps the pathway gate open. Yet Khosla could just as well approach the Coastal Commission for permission to use the gate again. Another legal battle could ensue if Khosla applies for permission to use the gate and the Coastal Commission rejects the permit.

The upcoming calendar year will reveal whether Khosla gives up on his fight or if he solicits permission to keep the gate closed.

This is not the first time the interests of private property owners have been pitted against public coastal access. A stretch of coast in Santa Barbara County known as Hollister Ranch has been the subject a longstanding battle between the area’s private property owners and anglers or surfers who seek to access the oceanfront as a matter of right.

There’s also “Private’s Beach” at Opal Cliffs in Santa Cruz, where beachgoers must pay an annual use fee and obtain a key to get past a gate and access the local coast.

Coastal access is essential to anglers and boaters, especially for boat owners or recreational fishers who don’t keep or have access to vessels at a marina. California also guarantees access to all waterways as a matter of birthright, both through the state’s constitution and the Coastal Act. Private interests have yet to chip away at the birthright and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Khosla’s case was certainly a victory for those who spend time at or on the water. Time will tell whether Khosla will continue his efforts to protect his private property rights – and whether such pursuits will trickle down and negatively affect anglers, boat owners, kayakers and others who rely upon unbridled public coastal access.

Khosla co-founded Sun Microsystems; he purchased the Martins Beach beachfront property in 2008 for $32.5 million, according to news reports. The billionaire and tech magnate had almost immediately used the property’s gate to shut down public access, setting up a long, nearly one-decade legal battle.

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2 thoughts on “Martins Beach and Coastal Access: What’s Next?

  • November 30, 2018 at 1:07 pm
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    Although Californians have the right to use all of the state’s beaches, they don’t have the right to trespass through private property to access that beach, or to require the private property owner to provide and maintain the infrastructure needed for access.

    If the State wants Khosla’s land, private road and private parking space so citizens have easier access to the beach, then that should compensate him instead of trying to seize the land like they’re the South African government and he’s a white farmer.

    Reply
    • December 3, 2018 at 10:08 am
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      That is not necessarily correct. While generally correct, whether there is a right to pass through private property to access the beach depends on a number of legal and factual issues.

      Reply

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