Court orders trial over Martins Beach public access

A state appeals court in San Francisco Wednesday ordered a trial in San Mateo Superior Court on whether there is right of public access to the popular Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay.

The beach is owned by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vinod Khosla and managed by two companies he created. He bought it in 2008 and beginning in 2009 sought to close it to the public by locking a gate to the only access road and installing “No Trespassing” signs.

A citizens’ group, Friends of Martins Beach, alleged in a Superior Court lawsuit that actions by the previous owners, the Deeney family, beginning in the early 1900s created a dedication, or right, of public access to the beach.

In a 52-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal said that the group had alleged adequate facts to allow a trial on that claim.

Justice Therese Stewart wrote for the court:

“We conclude Friends has alleged facts sufficient to state a common law dedication claim.”

The Deeney family’s previous actions included posting a billboard on nearby Highway 1 welcoming the public “with open arms”; building a parking lot, bathrooms and a convenience store for visitors; and at times charging a parking fee.

A trial would determine whether those actions in fact created a right of access.

Gary Redenbacher, a lawyer for the group, said:

“It’s a huge win for the public. It’s the next step in gaining access.”

The case is one of two lawsuits originating in San Mateo County Superior Court concerning access to the beach.

In the second case, filed by an organization called the Surfrider Foundation, Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ruled that the closure of the beach amounted legally to a coastal development, and that Khosla could not change public access without obtaining a development permit from the California Coastal Commission.

Khosla’s companies are now appealing that ruling to the Court of Appeal. The filing of briefs has not been completed and a hearing on the case has not yet been scheduled.

Redenbacher said he did not know how soon a trial will be held on the Friends of Martins Beach lawsuit.

The appeals court overturned a conclusion in which Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald said the Deeney families’ actions did not create a right of public access.

But in a second part of today’s decision, the appeals court ruled against Friends of Martins Beach and in favor of Khosla’s companies on another issue.

The court said the group could not base a claim to public access on an 1879 provision of the California Constitution that guarantees a public right of way to navigable waters along the California case.

The panel said that in the case of Martins Beach, the constitutional provision was preempted by the 1851 Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo with Mexico, which guarantees preservation of property rights granted by Mexico before 1851.

Redenbacher said he plans to appeal that part of the decision to the California Supreme Court.

Dori Yob, a lawyer for Khosla’s companies, said in a statement that they view this decision as a win for Khosla and for all coastal property owners.