The latest legal salvo in a dispute between the billionaire owner of a popular Peninsula beach and groups seeking public access to it is due for an initial court session before a federal judge in Oakland on Feb. 3.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White will preside over the case management conference on a lawsuit filed Sept. 30 by two companies created by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vinod Khosla, who owns Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay.
The defendants in the case are the California Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission and San Mateo County.
Khosla’s two companies, Martins Beach 1 and Martins Beach 2, claim the three agencies are violating their constitutional rights to equal treatment, due process of law and protection from having property seized without just compensation.
The lawsuit alleges:
“This case involves a concerted effort by state and local officials to single out, coerce, and harass one coastal property and its owner for refusing to cede its private property rights.”
It seeks an injunction prohibiting the state agencies and county from requiring Khosla’s companies to maintain public access to the beach.
Khosla bought the beach, which is popular with families, surfers and people who fish, in 2008. The previous owners kept the gate to the only road to the beach open most of the time, had a welcome billboard, built a parking lot and sometimes charged a parking fee.
Beginning in 2009, Khosla sought to close the beach to the public by locking the gate and posting a “No Trespassing” sign.
The new federal lawsuit is one of three cases concerning access to the beach. The other two are pending in the state court system.
A lawsuit filed in San Mateo County Superior Court in 2012 by a citizens’ group, Friends of Martins Beach, is now awaiting a trial in that court on the question of whether the previous owners created a right to public access.
The case was sent back for trial by a state appeals court in San Francisco in April. The Court of Appeal overturned a trial judge’s ruling that the previous owners did not establish an access right.
A second lawsuit was filed in San Mateo County Superior Court in 2013 by the Surfrider Foundation.
In that case, a trial judge ruled that the closure of the beach amounted to a coastal development and said Khosla’s companies therefore must obtain a development permit from the Coastal Commission.
Khosla is currently appealing that decision in the Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
The Coastal Commission has weighed in on the side of the foundation in that case by filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the appeals court that argues the locking of the gate is a coastal development because it blocks public access to the beach.