Vinod Khosla takes Martin’s Beach case to U.S. Supreme Court

Vinod Khosla (CREDIT: The Washington Post)

Indian American billionaire Vinod Khosla was ordered to restore public access to Martin’s Beach by California courts and is now seeking to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, after the California Supreme Court declined to take the case last October, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Apparently, Martin’s Beach is about 30 miles south of San Francisco and can only be reached by a private road across Khosla’s property according to The Guardian.

Khosla, the technology investor and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has been battling the case with the state for years now.

But he has consistently lost his legal fight due to the California state law that regulates access to the coastline and prioritizes public access to beaches.

In August 2017, a California appeals court had ordered Khosla to restore public access to the beach by unlocking the gate to the road, an order which he occasionally obeyed.

Last Thursday, Khosla filed a petition to the Supreme Court arguing that “the state law regulating California’s coastline is ‘Orwellian,’ and that the state court’s interpretation of the law in Khosla’s case ‘crosses a constitutional line.’”

According to The Guardian, “the ruling against Khosla ‘will throw private property rights in California into disarray,’ the petition states, ‘after all, petitioner is hardly the only private property owner along the vast California coast, or the only one who would prefer to exclude the public from its private property.’”

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, when the petition was filed last Thursday, coastal advocates said that “Khosla knew the rules of the Coastal Act when he bought the property surrounding the beach, and that his efforts now, if successful before the Supreme Court, could limit beach access for millions of Americans.”

Last year, Khosla’s lawyers said that he would allow the public to pass through his 53 acre land for $30 million; however, the State Lands Commission estimated that rights to use the path total 6.4 acres which have a market value of only $360,000.

Mark Massara, an attorney who has represented the Surfrider Foundation, called the appeal “a Hail Mary pass for a financial windfall” based on “preposterous” legal arguments and warned that if Khosla were to win, there could be a “financial free-for-all.”

“The only way they can find for Vinod is to throw out the entire California coastal program. It’s hard to fathom what would happen to California’s beaches and all beach access in the United States,” Massara told The Guardian.

Khosla began blocking access to Martin’s Beach by locking the gate to the private road in 2010 though it wasn’t until September of last year that the California Coastal Commission began an enforcement action against Khosla.

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, “under a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, the Coastal Commission can fine people who build without permits along the coast or who block public access to beaches up to $11,250 per day or $4.1 million per year for up to five years,” adding that “landowners seeking to change the public’s degree of access to a beach must seek a permit,” which Khosla rejected to apply for.

The commission then sent a letter to Khosla naming at least five potential violations, including grading and subdividing the property without a permit, and potentially several more that could bring the penalties to more than $20 million, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

He could also face additional penalties of $15,000 a day or $5.47 million a year for up to three years and possibly could have liens placed on the property if he ever refuses to pay.