One man's battle for privacy at Martin's Beach could have wide implications for all of coastal California.
Filed on Thursday by his limited liability corporations Martin's Beach 1 and 2, venture capitalist billionaire Vinod Khosla's case was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court for review. It remains to be seen whether the court takes the case.
The likelihood that the case is actually heard at the federal level is slim. (Each year, the U.S. Supreme Court receives up to 8,000 new cases and hears about 100.) What's at stake?
"Any coastal protection laws in the United States, because there are (more than 20) coastal states and they each have coastal management programs that protect public access to the nation's shorelines," said Mark Massara, counsel to the Surfrider Foundation, which has been embattled with Khosla since 2012.
"Vinod went ahead and took advantage of the last Hail Mary opportunity to dramatically profit from his acquisition of Martin's Beach by appealing not just Martin's, but the entire coastal protection program to the U.S. Supreme Court."
Khosla's limited liability corporations acquired the 89-acre Martin's Beach property just south of Half Moon Bay in 2008. Khosla first closed its gates to the public in 2010, after it had been open for decades. This was contentious because state law compels citizens who want to change the intensity of use of land and water on their property to apply for a Coastal Development Permit, which Khosla failed to do.
The California Coastal Act, established in 1976, has a goal to, "Maximize public access to and along the coast and maximize public recreational opportunities in the coastal zone consistent with sound resources, conservation principles and constitutionally protected rights of private property owners." State and local governments have sought to protect the act in a series of court filings.
In 2014, Judge Barbara Mallach of the San Mateo County Superior Court ordered Khosla to apply for a Coastal Development Permit in order to change public access to the beach, as well as to restore access in the meantime.
Last August, San Francisco's First District Court of Appeals also found that Khosla's actions violated the Coastal Act.
But documents filed Feb. 22 by Khosla's legal representatives with the U.S. Supreme Court describe the state's outcome as accepting a "capacious interpretation of the Coastal Act." The petition goes on to argue that, "No property right is more fundamental than the right to exclude. It is what makes 'private property' private.'"
"No one is claiming Martin's is public property. We're asking that the Commission be able to weigh those policy goals (between preserving private security and public access) and then issue him a permit," Massara said. "If he doesn't like it, or the public doesn't like it, anyone can then sue the Commission to get the redress. That's the way the process works. You can't circumvent it."
Khosla's attorneys include Paul Clement, a former U.S. Solicitor General under George W. Bush - one of the youngest attorneys to hold the position - and Jeffrey Essner, Allonn Levy and Dori Yob Kilmer of Hopkins & Carley in San Jose. They did not respond to requests for comment.