Closed for three years, the secluded Martin's Beach area south of Half Moon Bay could become a battleground for picket lines and protest boats seeking to restore public access this summer.
A new campaign being launched by fans of Martin's Beach intends to take a "shotgun approach" by embarrassing the property's secretive owner. Press reports suggest the coastal jewel, which many locals remember visting throughout the years, is owned by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.
Green-friendly investing has been a lynchpin for Khosla and his namesake firm, and critics hope to show his commitment to the environment is little more than a marketing veneer in light of the way he has banned the public from the beach area. They allege he has been circumventing the Coastal Act with the long-term goal to transform Martin's Beach into a private mansion compound. No formal plans have been submitted for developing the beach.
"You have this guy claiming to be green, and he's running roughshod over the local community," said San Mateo County Surfrider Chairman Edmundo Larenas. "He wants to be seen as a green venture capitalist, so this is his Achilles heel."
Meeting on Sunday in Half Moon Bay, a small band of Martin's Beach advocates began brainstorming ideas, such as having protestors trail Khosla around to his engagements. Participants also pondered the idea of chartering a boat to ferry picketers onto the shore of Martin's Beach, which legally remains public property even if access by land is extremely limited.
Among the attendees was county Supervisor Dave Pine, who gave assurances that government officials were as outraged as the public about Martin's Beach.
"Everyone in the county is angered by the access being blocked off," Pine said, pledging he would investigate getting an injunction to re-open the beach.
A cameraman was present at the meeting at the Train Depot to film interviews with surfers and families who wanted the beach to reopen. The interviews are to become part of a documentary intended to whet the appetite of media organizations. First in line for the camera, Tracy resident Terri Louwerens reminisced about the many summers she spent at Martin's Beach staying at her family's cabin, which it later sold. She has now organized more than 300 people through Facebook in an effort to keep the beach open.
"I have a son and I can't take him to the beach," she said. "I have all these memories that I want to share, but I can't do that unless this beach is open."
The local Surfrider chapter and county officials say the Martin's Beach owner has used subterfuge and his massive wealth to circumvent the Coastal Act. Since last year, county planning officials have denied permits for grading work at Martin's Beach, saying the owner must first address the public-access issue.
The controversy began in 2008, when the Deeney family sold Martin's Beach for $33 million to a shell company that kept its true owner's identity hidden. Surfrider organizers began to suspect Khosla last year after following up on tips, which were later vetted by a San Jose Mercury News reporter.
Khosla has never admitted or denied owning Martin's Beach. In a September letter to Surfrider, his lawyer Joan Gallo identified herself as a representative of the shell company and asked for people to respect Khosla's privacy. Gallo indicated the public-access matter would be settled through court.
"Mr. Kholsa certainly does appreciate the concerns of the surfing community's interest in Martin's Beach," Gallo wrote to Surfrider. "Once the fundamental legal question is resolved, I would be happy to discuss access arrangements with you."
Martin's Beach advocates fear taking the matter to the court system would play to Khosla's advantages, namely money for lawyers and prolonged appeals. At best, a court case would be a "50-50 toss up," said Surfrider spokesman Mike Wallace, who suggested they would find better odds if the matter came before the California Coastal Commission or the county.