Judge says landowner wrongly denied public access to Martin’s Beach

Vinod Khosla
Vinod Khosla, shown in 2009, was sued over access to Martin’s Beach, a popular stretch of sand near Half Moon Bay.
(Peter DaSilva / For the Times)

A San Mateo County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that a private property owner failed to obtain the proper permit to put up a fence blocking public access to a beloved and historic beach south of Half Moon Bay.

Judge Barbara Mallach, in a tentative ruling, did not impose any fines against property owner Vinod Khosla, whose property for years provided access to Martin’s Beach.

“Today’s decision is a huge victory for all of the people of California. Everyone can again visit Martin’s Beach,” said Joe Cotchett, an attorney for Surfrider Foundation, which filed the lawsuit.

The defendants said in a statement: “We are disappointed with the Court’s decision and will consider our options for appealing the ruling.”


At issue was whether a private property owner could be compelled to provide public beach access just because his predecessor did and whether the California Coastal Commission is within constitutional bounds when it negotiates for such access in exchange for coastal development permits.

For decades, Martin’s Beach was visited by thousands of locals who picnicked, surfed and fished in its protective cove.

The former owners granted beachgoers their only way to the beach by land, via a dirt road, and charged a small fee for parking. But two years after venture capitalist Vinod Khosla acquired the parcels in 2008, his manager locked the gate, painted over a sign that had beckoned from California 1 and posted security guards to ward off trespassers.

He did so despite being told by county planning officials, the Coastal Commission and a different San Mateo County Superior Court in 2009 that he needed to seek a coastal development permit if any of his actions were to change the “intensity of use” of the water or access to it.


The Surfrider Foundation sued last year on narrow grounds, contending Khosla intentionally flouted that administrative process. The foundation was asking that the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, known for his alternative energy investments, be fined the maximum of $15,000 a day dating back to the October 2010 gate closure -- an amount that would total about $20 million.

Twitter: @amcovarrubias

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