By Bay City News Service:
The question of whether it was legal for a Silicon Valley venture
capitalist to close public access to Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay is now
in the hands of a Redwood City judge.
Judge Barbara Mallach took the issue under consideration Wednesday after hearing closing arguments by the non-profit Surfrider Foundation and
companies representing property owner Vinod Khosla.
Surfrider Foundation argues that Khosla violated the California
Coastal Act of 1976 by erecting a gate and restrictive signs on the popular
surfing spot without a permit after he bought the property for $37.5 million
Khosla's attorneys argue that the move to close the beach was
within his rights as the property owner. Khosla, a cofounder of Sun
Microsystems, testified during the trial that he never directly made any
decisions on whether to close the beach.
Surfers and other public access proponents have protested the
closure by going around the gate to access the beach, including a group of
five surfers arrested for trespassing in 2012. Their charges were later
Khosla already prevailed in a ruling on a previous lawsuit filed
by the group "Friends of Martins Beach" that went to trial last October,
successfully arguing that he has no obligation to open a private road to
allow beachgoers access to portions of the beach he does not own.
According to the plaintiffs, before the sale, access to the beach
was allowed for decades and visitors paid a small access fee to maintain the
Attorney Joe Cotchett argued that Khosla needed a permit in order
to build the gate as any beachfront development requires a permit under the
California Coastal Act.
Khosla's attorneys argued in response that the Surfrider
Foundation's application of the Coastal Act is unconstitutional and that
Khosla has no obligation to make the beach open for public access nor to
obtain a permit to restrict access.
If the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs, Khosla will have to
go to the California Coastal Commission to obtain a permit for the gate. She
is expected to file a ruling in 30 to 60 days.