Jul 26, 2014
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Judge to Rule Whether Billionaire Had Right to Close Martins Beach

The judge is expected to file a ruling in 30 to 60 days.

Judge to Rule Whether Billionaire Had Right to Close Martins Beach
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 in 2008.

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 dropped.

 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 beach.

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. 

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