New Surfrider Foundation Lawsuit Presses for California Beach Access
California’s law guarantees public access to the coastline, and a new lawsuit looks to enforce that guarantee on Martin’s Beach in Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County. Just last month, county prosecutors dropped criminal trespassing charges against five surfers who accessed the beautiful sandy beach from a private road. This week, beach access advocates went on the offense, as the Surfrider Foundation filed suit to gain clear access to Martin’s Beach.
As Surfrider explains, “This crescent-shaped beach is surrounded by high cliffs on either side and has one main road for ingress and egress. Unfortunately, after a sale to a new property owner in 2008, the road was eventually gated and signs were put up in an effort to make the beach private.” It has been widely reported that the property owner is billionaire venture capitalist and founder of Sun Microsystems, Vinod Khosla.
These access issues, pitting wealthy beachfront property owners against the general public are not unknown in California. In 2005, after 22 years of back-and-forth battle, wealthy Hollywood mogul David Geffen finally unlocked his gate to provide public access to the Malibu coast.
Surfrider’s lawsuit (pdf) claims that the efforts to make the beach private are violations of California’s Coastal Act. The lawsuit says that new gates and new signage should require a permit from the Coastal Commission. Surfrider says, “At a previous Coastal Commission hearing, former Executive Director of the Commission, Peter Douglas, was moved by the public testimony on the issue and commented that he agreed that the closure of the beach access was a significant issue that the Commission would act upon. However, after over two years, the locked gates and restrictive signage remained. Since our group and the local community did not make the headway we needed with public outreach and administrative advocacy, Surfrider decided it was time to sue.” Former Representative Pete McCloskey, a Republican and a co-chair of the first Earth Day, is helping to litigate the case.
Indeed, all previous efforts to resolve the conflict have failed. Warnings have fallen on deaf ears, negotiations have gone nowhere, and several lawsuits are already pending. All of this time, energy, effort and expense could be avoided if Mr. Khosla would just open the gate to the public’s beach.