After years of negotiations, arbitration, pleas, and Supreme Court challenges, the US state of California has finally had enough of beach-blocking billionaire Vinod Khosla – and sued the Sun Microsystems co-founder.
At issue is Martin's beach, south of San Francisco, where the only entryway exists on land that Khosla bought for $32m as part of a larger property deal in 2008. For more than a century, the path has been a public access route to the beach for those on foot or arriving by car – the shore itself being public property under California law. Khosla, however, decided he would use his land rights to close off access with a padlocked gate, infuriating locals and sparking a lengthy legal war.
Despite the fact Khosla has lost every legal challenge regarding the shoreline over the past decade, he has used his fortune to drag the issue through the courts. Along the way, California passed a law specifically to undercut one of his legal arguments, so Khosla personally sued the members of California's Coastal Commission. His lawyers also asked for a ridiculous $10m to sell the small piece of land leading down to the beach; property that is valued at $380,000.
At one point, he fell back on a treaty from 1848, two years before California was even a state, to throw up legal roadblocks.
But even after 10 years of proceedings and the US Supreme Court putting an end to his last possible defense, the stubborn old tech-head has refused to grant access to the beach, despite claiming to never visit the site. And California has had enough.
The state is now suing [PDF] on behalf of its Coastal Commission and State Lands Commission, claiming Khosla has “improperly and illegally” restricted access to the beach. They want a right to use Martin's Beach Road: the narrow road that crosses his land on its way to the beach, and is used by folks to get down to the shoreline.
The lawsuit points out that it has pictures dating from the 1800s in which the public can be seen using the beach, and it walks through how previous owners of the land, from the 1920s onward, installed and ran a beach store and restaurant, as well as providing amenities including “swings, picnic tables, garbage cans, two sets of permanent restrooms, and portable restrooms at the southern of the beach.”
There have been beach signs on the highway for decades, and countless newspaper articles referring to the beach as open to public use, the lawsuit notes.
It then cuts to the issue of parking fees: Khosla has argued, for the past two years, that because, at least in the past, folks have had to pay a small fee to park a car near the beach, access is therefore restricted by this requirement and the public has no automatic right to access the shore. The lawsuit lobbies against that claim, stating the fee “did not amount to a restriction on public use,” and that everyone understood the parking fee to be a fee for parking a car; a fee that was charged per car and was not charged for people arriving on foot. In other words, it is not an access fee.
Sun billionaire Khosla discovers life's a beach after US Supreme Court refuses to hear him outREAD MORE
The long or short of it is that California is suing him (well, the two holding companies his lawyers have set up to hold the land) for restricting access to a public beach. It wants an easement on the path, a public declaration that the public can use the path, an injunction requiring Khosla to remove his anti-trespassing signs and the locked gate across the pathway, a ban on anyone associated with Khosla putting literally anything up around the path unless he gets permission, and its legal costs paid in full.
In other words: game over, Vinod.
Naturally enough, Khosla’s lawyer Dori Yob Kilmer has explained the lawsuit is a communist plot and unconstitutional.
“The claims asserted in today’s lawsuit have been extensively litigated and repeatedly rejected by the courts in a prior lawsuit,” Kilmer said in a statement.
“Since the property was purchased by our client, the state, and small activist groups, have endeavored to seize our client’s private property without compensation. While such tactics are commonplace in communist systems, they have never been tolerated in the American system where the US Constitution precludes the government from simply taking private property and giving it to the public.” ®