This week marked the end of a nine-year legal battle over access to Martins Beach, a small, idyllic spot of California coast just west of the San Mateo County town of Lobitos.
In 2008, billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla paid $37.5 million for almost all of the land around the beach. Soon after purchase, the entrepreneur promptly put up a gate and a sign reading “No Trespassing, Beach Closed.’
This landed Khosla in court, as Article 10, Section 4 of the California constitution states:
No individual, partnership, or corporation, claiming or possessing the frontage or tidal lands of a harbor, bay, inlet, estuary, or other navigable water in this State, shall be permitted to exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose. [...] Access to the navigable waters of this State shall be always attainable for the people thereof.
Because the beach is surrounded by cliffs, closing the only road made it all but impossible to gain access to Martins Beach.
Many beachgoers went regardless of its turn toward privatization—simply walking around the gate—but Khosla did everything in his power to keep them out, going so far as to have five Martins Beach surfers arrested in 2012.
By stifling access to Martins Beach, had Khosla “excluded the right of way” to a part of the coast? Lawyers, judges, bureaucrats, and politicians argued the case for years in a series of court battles filled with unexpected and, at times, bizarre turns.
At one point a judge ruled in favor of Khosla by citing, of all things, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the 1848 peace accord that ended the Mexican-American war.
In August, a San Francisco appeals court ruled against Khosla. One moth later, the state threatened him with daily fines adding up to millions of dollars per year on top of additional fees, citing “numerous and significant violations of the California Coastal Act.”
The San Jose Mercury News reported this week that the gate to Martins Beach is finally open, albeit only during certain hours—specifically, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.—which means there will be more legal battles ahead.
Even so, it’s a big break for public access in a case that’s dragged out for nearly a decade.
After all that, some may wonder if the brouhaha regarding a small stretch of beach was worth it. Turning an eye toward Instagram, the answer becomes clear. Behold: