Pelican Rock marks the north end of Martins Beach on the San Mateo County coast. (Amy Standen/KQED)
Pelican Rock marks the north end of Martins Beach on the San Mateo County coast. (Amy Standen/KQED)

A state lawmaker is entering the battle over road access to a popular San Mateo coast beach that has been blocked by a Silicon Valley billionaire.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, a Peninsula Democrat, is unveiling a bill Monday to reopen a road to Martins Beach, for decades a popular surfing spot and hangout a few miles south of Half Moon Bay. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla bought the beach property, including the road, in 2008 and closed it to the public. Khosla reportedly intends to build a residence on the land, which is now occupied by about 45 beach cottages.

As KQED Science reporter Amy Standen related in a feature story last month, Khosla has run into determined opposition from surfers, environmentalists and coastal access advocates. They argue that shutting down a long-established public route to the beach violates the state Constitution’s public trust doctrine, which bars property owners from blocking access to public bodies of water. A San Mateo County judge has rejected that argument, saying that the terms of a Mexican-era land grant allow Khosla to restrict access to the beach.

Hill’s legislation would order the State Lands Commission to open negotiations with Khosla to buy all or part of the property for a public access road. The bill would require the commission to acquire the property through eminent domain if no deal is reached within a year.

KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler is covering Hill’s press conference at the Martins Beach gate. We’ll have more from him on this story later Monday.

KQED’s Forum discusses Sen. Hill’s proposal:

Reporting on California land policy, planning and conservation is supported by a grant from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation.

  • Sandra S. Elliott

    Billionaire Khosla needs to pack up his American winnings and go back home to his native India with his cash. Who the hell does he think he is anyway?

    • y_p_w

      Probably a naturalized US citizen at this point.

      I certainly don’t like how this has turned out. If the judge hadn’t come up with this odd citation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, I think it’s a slam dunk that the Coastal Act would come into play to establish a public easement for beach access. It’s pretty clear that Khosla wants to develop the place when the leases run out.

      Even the most fervent libertarian would agree that eminent domain is legally defensible. Eminent doman means compensating the owner for the land rather than effectively taking it as an easement in exchange for develpment permits, which the Coastal Act would mandate.

      Still – I have the feeling that he doesn’t want compensation. I’d think what he wants is a de facto private beach.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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