State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) joined San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, members of Surfrider Foundation, Martin’s 5, and coastside residents in a news conference February 10 announcing Hill's legislation to reopen to the public a road that leads down to a contested beach south of Half Moon Bay.
A gate erected in 2010 by billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who purchased the property for $37.5 million, has been the focus of a nationally watched legal battle pitting Californians’ rights to beach access against the rights of property owners.
CONTACT: Aurelio Rojas 916-747-3199 cell; Leslie Guevarra 415-298-3404 cell
BACKGROUND: Hill’s legislation would require the State Lands Commission to enter into negotiations with billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla – who bought the beach property in 2008 – to purchase all or a portion of the property for a public access road. If a deal is not struck within a year, the bill would require the commission to acquire all or a portion of the property by eminent domain to create a public access road.
The property was previously owned for more than a century by the Denney family, which was charging visitors $5 for access and parking at the beach when the property was sold. But when Khosla bought the property, he put up a gate with a sign that said, “Beach closed, keep out,” which angered many coastside residents and visitors who frequented Martin’s Beach.
A group of protesting surfers known as Martin’s 5 were arrested for bypassing the gate and walking down the access road to the beach and going surfing. Charges were later dropped by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.
Attorney Gary Redenbacher, representing Friends of Martin’s Beach, filed a lawsuit to restore public access to the beach, basing his claim on the public trust doctrine and Article 10, Section 4, of the state constitution, which prevents property owners from excluding access to public bodies of water.
But San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled last October that the constitution’s provisions did not apply to Martin’s Beach because it was predated by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War, and guaranteed that the United States would uphold the property rights of Mexican citizens.
The treaty granted 200 acres to Santa Clara Valley settler Jose Antonio Alviso, including the Martin’s Beach parcels, and Judge Buchwald ruled that the land grant took precedence over the public trust doctrine in the state constitution.
The decision – which is being appealed – doesn’t outlaw public access to the beach, but because the only way for the public to get there now is by sea, it had the same practical effect.
Meanwhile, Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to protection of the world’s oceans, waves, and beaches, is pressing its own lawsuit against Khosla based primarily on the California Coastal Act. The case, scheduled to go to court in May, contends Khosla failed to obtain a coastal development permit for the new gate and restrictive signs that prevent the public from accessing Martin's Beach Road, in direct violation of the California Coastal Act.