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Public access at Martin’s Beach

I just learned about the ongoing legal dispute on Martin’s Beach (south of San Francisco) through this New York Times article

To briefly sum it up, tech billionaire Vinod Khosla bought a 53-acre beachside village known as Martin’s Beach in 2008. On the land is about 47 beach houses, a shop that sold ice cream at one point in its life, and a road that provides the only access to the beach. The road is private, but over the years and before Khosla purchased the property, it provided both parking for and access to the beach. 

After acquiring the property, the county told Khosla that he had 2 options with respect to the road:

(1) Keep it open (there’s a gate that controls access). And charge no more than $2 a car for parking, which was the rate charged in 1972.

(2) Apply for a Coastal Development Permit to change how the access works.

Khosla opted to do neither and in turn the residents of Martin’s Beach sued him. He’s been in a legal battle ever since. But according to the New York Times, he has about $3 billion sitting in his war chest. For him it is both a matter of principle and a matter of protecting property rights.

Not surprisingly, tech billionaire fighting to keep people off a public beach makes for a sensational headline in the media. The NY Times argued that every generation has some sort of rich Californian fighting to privatize the waterfront. Khosla is this generation’s “beach villain”.

But beneath the headlines lies a fascinating legal debate that you can read more about through a blog post that Khosla published earlier this year. For you property lawyers out there, I would be curious to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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