A coalition of surfers, beachgoers and environmentalists is celebrating a legal victory against a billionaire tech titan after a judge ruled that a secluded beach on the San Mateo County coast must be reopened to the public.
In ruling late Wednesday, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ordered Vinod Khosla — a venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc. — to reopen a private road that leads to Martins Beach.
The narrow road — the only access to the scenic stretch of sand about five miles south of Half Moon Bay — has been closed since 2010 when Khosla, through two holding companies he operates, bought the land adjacent to the beach, put up a gate and closed the road.
The nonprofit group Surfrider Foundation sued, seeking to force Khosla to open the gate and allow members of the public to enjoy the beach once again.
Joe Cotchett, an attorney with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, the Burlingame-based law firm representing the Surfrider Foundation in the case said of the ruling:
“Today’s decision is a huge victory for all of the people of California. It affirms that great wealth cannot be used to circumvent and ignore the law. Everyone can again visit Martins Beach.”
In her 16-page ruling, Mallach said blocking access to the beach without a permit was a violation of the California Coastal Act.
Mallach did not levy a fine in her ruling, but ordered Khosla’s holding companies to:
“… cease preventing the public from accessing and using the water, beach and coast at Martins Beach.”
Long a favorite of surfers and beachgoers, stretching back for generations, access to Martins Beach came to an end — and sparked a bitter legal battle — after Khosla’s holding companies paid $37.5 million for 53 acres of the land adjacent to the beach and closed its sands to the public.
Khosla attorney, Jeff Essner, had argued that his client did not need a permit to close the roadway, and that the rights of property owners had been established in previous court decisions.
Essner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the today’s ruling.
With Khosla having 15 days to appeal, that doesn’t mean Martins Beach will be open to the public immediately, but that’s not stopping local activist and self-described “old surfer” Rob Caughlan from heading to the beach.
Caughlan, Surfriders Foundation’s first president, told SFBay:
“I’m taking my surfboard there tomorrow.”
John Marshall is an SFBay editor, and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio. Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.