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.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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