Remember Martin’s Beach? Sure you do. It’s the crescent-shaped bit of sand and shore just south of Half Moon Bay that is just about as close to heaven as Californians can get without passing through the pearly gates.
You will remember that the beach was open for years and years, though you had to pass along a private road to get there. For that privilege, the Deeney family charged a nominal sum and everyone was mostly happy for generations. One of the many people who loved the spot, apparently, was a Silicon Valley billionaire named Vinod Khosla. So, in 2008, he bought it. Or, more truthfully, he bought the private property surrounding what had always been a public beach.
The trouble started because he didn’t see much distinction between buying the beach and the land surrounding it. A couple years later, he closed the gate the public had always used to access the beach. All sorts of good theater followed. Surfers made sport of jumping the fence and riding the suddenly forbidden waves. Former U.S. Rep. Pete McCloskey held a photo opportunity at the gate that attracted media from across the state. Two lawsuits were filed, won and subsequently appealed.
Somewhere along the way, San Mateo County authorities announced they would not enforce trespassing claims on the land, and so the beach has remained functionally open to visitors willing to subvert the new owner’s wishes.
Now there is a deadline fast approaching that might bring the access matter to a head.
In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed state Sen. Jerry Hill’s bill requiring the State Lands Commission to negotiate some right of way with the land owner. The bill gave the parties until Jan. 1, 2016, to hammer out some agreement that would assure public access into perpetuity. That is 15 days from today. And what if no settlement is reached? Hill’s bill specifically enables the State Lands Commission to take property deemed necessary for public access through eminent domain.
With that in mind, the State Lands Commission has proposed an easement across little more than six acres that would allow Khosla’s limited liability corporation that owns the land to control the land the cabins are on, bluff tops and the rest of what is a beautiful property. Khosla’s company hasn’t responded to that proposal, according to a staff report included with an agenda for Friday’s State Lands Commission meeting in Sacramento.
Instead, there is reference to a novel idea from the Khosla brain trust: Let’s trade.
“Martins Beach LLC has proposed the concept of a land exchange involving … the entire Martin’s Beach property for another coastal property with a private beach that the state either already owns or, presumably, would acquire,” the staff report reads. It was not immediately clear whether such a parcel exists, but, as the report points out, that wasn’t the charge outlined in a bill specifically designed to return access to Martin’s Beach.
This costly, seemingly never-ending charade is an insult to Californians from Eureka to Chula Vista. We’re not trading one beach you can’t privatize for another. Stop kicking the can down the road to Martin’s Beach. Open the gate, Mr. Khosla. Enough already.