Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla either would have to voluntarily sell part of the beach property he bought in 2008 to the state or else see it seized under eminent domain powers, under a bill to be introduced Friday by a Bay Area lawmaker.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, plans a news conference Friday near Half Moon Bay to roll out a bill he says would settle the years-long battle between Khosla, 59, of Portola Valley, and various local residents and groups. The battle is being watched across the nation as a key, possibly precedent-setting showdown between private property owners and public access rights.
Khosla – a Sun Microsystems cofounder and prominent donor to President Obama – in 2008 paid $37.5 million for 89 acres near Martin’s Beach, a popular surfing and picnicking spot south of Half Moon Bay. The property’s previous owners had charged visitors $5 for access and parking at the beach, but Khosla built a gate and declared the beach closed to the public.
Hill’s bill would require the State Lands Commission to start negotiations with Khosla to buy all or part of the property for a public access road; if no deal is struck within a year, the bill would require the commission to acquire all or part of it by eminent domain to create that road.
A group of three surfers calling themselves Friends of Martin’s Beach sued to restore public access, citing a section of the state constitution that says property owners can’t completely block access to public bodies of water. But San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled in October that this provision doesn’t apply because the constitution was predated the original land grant, which dates back to 1848.
The Surfrider Foundation has sued Khosla too, based mostly on the California Coastal Act and claiming Khosla didn’t get a coastal development permit for the gate and “keep out” signs. That case is scheduled to be tried later this year.