Martins Beach lawyers, judge take walk in the sand

It was literally a day at the beach in another round of what’s expected to be a precedent-setting legal battle over access to a scenic seaside hideaway near Half Moon Bay.

Attorneys representing an alliance of surfers, beach goers and environmentalists, their opponents — the legal team for multi-billionaire Vinod Khosla — and the San Mateo County Superior Court judge who will decide the case all took a trip to picturesque Martins Beach Thursday.

The day trip to the secluded stretch of sand on a beautiful spring morning came as the lawyers for the non-profit Surfrider Foundation — represented by Burlingame-based law firm Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy — are seeking to force Khosla to take down a gate blocking a narrow road to the beach and to allow members of the public to enjoy its sands once again.

With large cliffs towering over both ends of Martins Beach, and with the access road blocked, the beach is effectively closed.

Former U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey — who represented parts of the Peninsula and Silicon Valley in Congress from 1967 to 1983 — had been going to Martins beach for more than half a century.  He’s also one of lawyers representing Surfrider:

“I began going to Martins Beach in the spring of 1948 and it would be a tragedy if a man of enormous means is allowed continue to privatize a California beach and close it off to the public.”

Khosla —  a venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc. —  purchased the 52 acres of beach property through two holding companies he operates for $37.5 million in 2008.

Surfrider’s lawyers argue that Khosla violated the California Coastal Act when he didn’t apply to the California Coastal Commission for a permit to install a new gate at the entrance to the only access road to beach.  They also argue blocking the public from getting to the beach is a violation of the act.

But Khosla’s lawyers counter by saying his client didn’t need a permit from the commission for the locked gate, that the rights of property owners have been established in previous court decisions, and that Martins Beach property is not being developed.

Attorney Jeff Eisner told SFBay:

“Surfrider is putting the cart before the horse. There has been no development.”

With closing arguments scheduled for July 1, it could be late summer or early fall before Judge Barbara Mallach issues her ruling.

When she does, attorney Eric Buescher, another one of the lawyers working on the case for Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy, told SFBay he expects a protracted legal battle with the case being appealed to higher courts:

“All the way up to the California or U.S. Supreme Court.”


John Marshall is an SFBay editor and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio.  Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.