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Supreme Court won’t hear tech billionaire’s beach appeal

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Vinod Khosla’s challenge to California coast law beached

Rocks off the coast of Martins Beach on a cloudy day.
Martins Beach.
Photo by bteimages/Shutterstock

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it has denied Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla’s appeal of a lower court’s decision in the decade-long fight for access to Martins Beach, a popular surfing spot south of Half Moon Bay.

Khosla bought the land around the beach in 2008 for $32.5 million. Since then he’s regularly denied access to it across his property by closing the only road, which groups like the legal organization Surfrider say violates California laws about coastal access.

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 largely surrounded by cliffs, closing the only accessible road made it all but impossible for the public to visit Martins Beach.

In 2012, Khosla had five local surfers arrested for going around the gate he had erected along the road. The billionaire claims that the road and parking lot servicing the beach are a business he may decide to close down if he wishes, and that requiring access infringes on his property rights.

Since then the legal battle over access to the small but picturesque pocket beach has mostly gone against Khosla. In 2017 a federal judge threw out his appeal of an earlier ruling, and in February Khosla’s lawyers attempted to appeal that decision up to the Supreme Court.

Photo by Kara Jade Quan-Montgomery/Shutterstock

As of Monday the highest court says it has denied Khosla. However, this is still not the end of the conflict; Khosla now has the option of pursuing permits for his gate on the road—he never bothered the first time—and potentially starting all new legal battles over that.

In a statement cited by multiple outlets, Khosla’s lawyers complained, “No business owner should be forced to obtain a permit from the government to shut down a private business,” but acknowledged that they must abide by the court’s decision.

“By declining to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the owner’s attempt to purchase a public resource,” said Surfrider’s attorney Eric Buescher.

In an August interview, Khosla said that he is, in fact, a supporter of the state’s coastal act and fretted about potentially undoing it with a successful Supreme Court appeal.