Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems, sparked public resentment earlier this month in San Francisco when he asked for $30 million from the State of California for allowing public access to Martins Beach, he had bought eight years ago.
The prime 53-acre parcel of Martins Beach, a haven for the beach-going public that Khosla had bought for US $37.5 million eight years ago, has become contentious in recent days. Initially, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist had let people use the beach, but in 2010 locked the gates on Martins Beach Road and posted guards, according to a New York Times report. But now Khosla is demanding $30 million from the state for re-opening the gates of the beach for public and also give access to another 39.5-acre parcel that includes coastal cliffs.
For nearly a century, the beach was a “popular destination for fishing, picnicking, and surfing and other recreational uses”, according to the California state lands commission. The previous owners provided a general store and public restroom and allowed the public to visit the beach, charging a fee for parking.
After purchasing the property, Khosla, who does not live on the property, initially continued to allow public access. But in 2010, he closed the gate and put up signs warning against trespass, prompting multiple lawsuits as well as legislation that required the commission to negotiate with Khosla about restoring public access.
In a letter to the State Lands Commission Khosla’s lawyer said that an “easement leading over his property” in San Mateo County to the beach would cost California about $30 million, not including the enormous additional costs for road repairs, annual operations and maintenance.
According to reports,. Khosla’s lawyer Dori Yob offered the estimate in a February 3 letter to the state Court of Appeal, which is handling one of several lawsuits over the property. The report said quoting Jennifer Lucchesi, the executive officer of the State Lands Commission, as saying that she was equally taken aback when she received the letter, which she submitted as evidence in the case. The commission contends the tidelands Khosla claims are actually owned by the state. “We have not seen any documentation or analysis supporting that $30 million value,” Lucchesi said.
Gary Redenbacher, a lawyer for Friends of Martins Beach that sued Khosla in San Mateo Superior Court said that the $30 million figure is rather amusing and that the state Constitution makes all beaches public property.
The report said that Friends of Martins Beach sued in San Mateo Superior Court, and Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled in Khosla’s favor in 2013, saying the beach was subject to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War and required the United States to recognize Mexican land grants. In essence, Buchwald said, the beach had been in private hands long before laws were passed requiring public access to the coast, the SFGate report said.
But whatever be the outcome of the battle in the court that is expected to give its decision in summer this year, the issue has become the latest “class-charged standoff” involving a wealthy entrepreneur.
“People are saying, ‘Talk about entitlement: Rich people think they can get away with anything,’” the New York Times quoted Rob Caughlan, the former president of the non-profit Surfrider Foundation, as saying. “All we want is to get Khosla to follow the same law as everyone else does,” the report said. Beah goers had been staging protest outside the locked gates, demanding reopening of the beach.
The state commission’s executive officer, Jennifer Lucchesi, said on Tuesday that the state did not agree that the “value of the public access” was $30m. She wrote in an email: “We believe the fair market value is significantly less than that. As of today, we have not seen any documentation or analysis supporting the $30 million value.”