Billionaire Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has been part of a political and legal battle over public access to the coastline for quite some time now. Martins Beach was closed to cars in 2008 when Khosla bought a piece of property and then denied access onto his property. In response, the Surfrider Foundation sued Khosla for violating the 1972 California Coastal Act, which made all coastlands public property.
Khosla has proposed swapping his 49 acres of land for another piece of property, as long as it too has a private beach. The California State Lands Commission (SLC) has been negotiating with Khosla for a 6.5-acre easement that would provide access to the beach, along with a parking lot, bathrooms and trash cans.
Khosla has not responded to the offers that have been made by the SLC and it is unclear how much the SLC has offered him as they have not disclosed the amount at this time. However, Khosla did make an offer to trade his property. The SLC has suggested that it will likely pursue eminent domain if a deal cannot be reached.
The land swap deal has been on the table since October. The SLC has yet to deny or accept the offer which leaves many wondering what will happen. According to Eric Buescher, an attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, the land swap does not make any sense. He said, “I find it odd that they would trade one private beach for another as the core disagreement is whether something like this should exist.”
Khosla bought the property for $32.5 million in 2008, which includes 45 leased cabins along the coastal cliffs. This case has pitted the rights of private property owners against the rights of the public to access California beaches. It also calls into question what is just compensation.
Khosla has argued that his First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated when he was forced to open the gate to the beach. He says that the court forcing him to open the gate without just compensation is a direct conflict with eminent domain laws.
The efforts to negotiate and pursue eminent domain if necessary comes after Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB968 ordering the land commission to acquire or seize the easement. A supporter of the bill, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said a land swap would be possible if Khosla would drop his demands for a public beach.
“The State Lands Commission cannot give up a public beach for private use. That’s why we’re here in the first place,” said Hill, who would prefer to negotiate a settlement.
If eminent domain is pursued, it will be a bitter battle. We will be following this story. Stay tuned . . . .
If you are a California property or business owner impacted by eminent domain in California, please call the attorneys at California Eminent Domain Law Group at (866) EM-DOMAIN for a free consultation to discuss your rights.