By Mark Massara
On Thursday, June 15, a three justice panel of the California Court of Appeals became the sixth California court to hear lawyers for Vinod Khosla complain that having to apply for a permit amounts to government “takings” of private property along California’s coast.
Based on the Court’s questions and skepticism expressed during argument in Surfrider Foundation v. Martin’s Beach LLC, Vinod may receive another legal drubbing when the Court’s opinion is announced.
In 2008, Silicon Valley billionaire investor Vinod Khosla paid $32.5 million dollars for Martins Beach, a 50-acre agricultural parcel with a half-mile of beachfront and a clutch of leased beach cottages. Shortly after buying the property, Khosla painted over signs welcoming the public, erected “no trespassing” and “beach closed” signs, and hired armed security guards to prevent the public from accessing the beach, upsetting nearly 100 years of continuous public access.
When informed that closing historic access to a public beach violated the State Constitution (Article 10 Section 4) and California Coastal Act (CA Public Resources Code Sec. 30000 et seq.) Khosla responded by suing San Mateo County and the California Coastal Commission in 2009.
Almost immediately, a Superior Court in San Mateo County confirmed that a permit was required to close a public beach in California and his case was dismissed.
In 2014, Surfrider Foundation brought an action against Khosla for violation of the California Coastal Act. Following a trial, Khosla was again ordered in December 2015 to open the beach, and not to close it without a permit.
Meanwhile, in a separate case (Friends of Martins Beach), both the California Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court have rebuked Khosla and ordered a trial regarding historic public use of the property.
The California Court of Appeals decision in the Surfrider case is expected within weeks. In all likelihood, Khosla will again be ordered to comply with the California Coastal Act and apply for a permit if he desires to close Martins Beach. Khosla has vowed to appeal to the California Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court in an effort to have the California Coastal Act declared unconstitutional.
As part of his carpet bombing campaign, Khosla has also recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against California’s Secretary of Resources, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, all members of the California Coastal Commission as individuals, and a surfeit of local officials and others for perceived slights and injustices. Arguments for dismissal of that action were set to be heard June 23 in Oakland CA, but the Judge took the matter off calendar and stated he would rule on the papers alone, perhaps finding Khosla’s arguments were so spurious that no oral pronouncements from his lawyers could save him.
Mark Massara is an environmental attorney specializing in coastal resource protection and is privileged to be part of a legal “Dream Team” including famed lawyers Joe Cotchett, Pete McCloskey and Eric Buescher of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy representing Surfrider Foundation (www.surfrider.org) in Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach 1 LLC et al (2013) A144268/A145176 (San Mateo Superior Court No. CIV520336).