Supreme Court Foils Tech Billionaire’s Restriction of Martins Beach

Without a special permit, locked gates and armed guards will stay away from the beloved beach near Half Moon Bay.

In a win for public access to the California coast, the U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear a tech billionaire’s appeal to control access to Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay.

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has fought since 2010 to restrict usage of the only road to the San Mateo County beach, arguing that he allowed to as the property owner. Lower courts previously ruled that without a permit from the California Coastal Commission, he must keep the beach open.

Khosla appealed to the Supreme Court, which offered no comment in its denial to hear his case. The Surfrider Foundation, which sued Khosla to open the beach’s access, billed the case as one that could reshape access to public areas nationwide should the Supreme Court rule in Khosla’s favor. 

“The most conservative and divided Supreme Court in my lifetime confirmed that even a billionaire, who refuses to acknowledge that the law applies to him, and retains the most expensive attorneys he can find, cannot create a private beach,” said Joseph Cotchett, attorney for Surfrider Foundation. Beaches are public in California, and the immensely wealthy must comply with the Coastal Act just like everyone else.”

In his attempt to keep people off his property, Khosla turned an idyllic beachfront into a tense atmosphere with a gate, armed guards, and painting over a welcome sign. History buffs were called for as the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, was cited in early court rulings that favored Khosla’s land ownership rights.

But Khosla didn’t wish to completely cut off visitors to Martins Beach. He offered to sell a small piece of the property to the state to control access — but for $30 million, just $2 million short of what he bought the full property for in 2008.

He even said in August that he regrets buying the property and that he will likely sell it. Taking the case to the Supreme Court, Khosa said, is a matter of principle.

If I were to ever win in the Supreme Court, I’d be depressed about it,” Khosla told The New York Times. “I support the Coastal Act; I don’t want to weaken it by winning. But property rights are even more important.”

That determination all but guarantees an attempt to fight for his principles by requesting a permit. If denied, Khosla’s lawyer told The New York Times on Monday, the process will begin again.

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