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Hill's Bills: Martins Beach Bill to the Governor

California Senate Sends Jerry Hill’s Martins Beach Bill to the Governor; SB 968 Calls for Negotiations to Begin with Silicon Valley Billionaire to Restore Public Access to the Beach

SACRAMENTO -- The California Senate today sent to the governor Senator Jerry Hill’s legislation to require the State Lands Commission to enter into negotiations with Silicon Valley billionaire and Martins Beach property owner Vinod Khosla for one year, in an effort to re-open the beach near Half Moon Bay to the public.
In 2010, two years after Khosla’s purchase of beachfront land, his property manager closed the gate to the only road leading to Martins Beach and put up a sign reading, “Beach closed, keep out.” Since then Californians have been unable to access a beach they've enjoyed for generations.

The grassroots movement to re-open the road has attracted national attention, focusing on the rights of Californians to beach access. Senate Bill 968 by Hill, D-San Mateo/Santa Clara Counties, does not mandate use of eminent domain. But if signed by the governor, it would mandate negotiations for a year as an attempt to reach a positive outcome for all parties.

The bill, which the Senate passed on a bipartisan 23-9 vote, does not interfere with current court battles that could take years to resolve, but is designed to provide the public access to the beach in the near term.

For more than a century, the road to Martins Beach was owned by the Denney family, which charged visitors a fee for access and parking at the beach. After the gate on the road to the beach was closed, a group of protesters known as the Martins 5 was arrested for bypassing the gate, walking down the road to the beach and going surfing.

After charges were dropped by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, a lawsuit to restore public access was filed by a group called the Friends of Martin’s Beach. The plaintiffs based their 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.

Last October, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled that the constitution’s provisions do not apply to the beach because ownership of the beach was decreed by a document that predated the California constitution. 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., had granted 200 acres to Santa Clara Valley settler Jose Antonio Alviso, including the Martins Beach parcels. Judge Buchwald ruled that the land grant took precedence over the public trust doctrine in the state constitution.

Buchwald’s decision – which is being appealed – didn’t outlaw public access to the beach, but because the only way for the public to get there now is from the ocean, it had the same practical effect.

Meanwhile, the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection of the world’s oceans and beaches, has been pressing its own lawsuit against Khosla based primarily on the California Coastal Act.

(Senator Hill press release)

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