Judge Rules for Public Access to Martins Beach, Doesn't Fine Owner

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Pelican Rock marks the north end of Martins Beach on the San Mateo County coast. (Amy Standen/KQED)
Pelican Rock marks the north end of Martins Beach on the San Mateo County coast. (Amy Standen/KQED) (Amy Standen/KQED)

A San Mateo County Superior Court judge ruled today in favor of the Surfrider Foundation, the plaintiff in the protracted legal fight over access to Martins Beach, just south of Half Moon Bay.

Judge Barbara Mallach ruled that development companies representing Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla have been violating the California Coastal Act by closing the gate on public access to the beach.

Martins Beach has been a a popular surfing spot and hangout for decades. Venture capitalist Khosla bought the beach property, including the road, in 2008 and closed it to the public. He reportedly intends to build a residence on the land, which is now occupied by about 45 beach cottages.

The Surfrider Foundation sued Martins Beach LLC, claiming owner Khosla needed a coastal development permit, which was never sought.


"This confirms what the county and the Coastal Commission and the public have long believed, that public access to the California coast is a right that belongs to the people," said the plaintiff's attorney, Eric Buescher. "It cannot be unilaterally blocked by a property owner without asking for permission to do so."

Mallach ruled Khosla engaged in unpermitted development and must seek a permit from the Coastal Commission, which is required to block access and change, add or remove signs adjacent to Martins Beach Road.

The judge also found Khosla acted on "a good-faith belief" that a permit was not required, so she imposed no fines.

The development companies representing Khosla are considering appealing the ruling, according to a statement released late Wednesday.

"We will continue to seek protection of the constitutional rights of private property owners that are guaranteed by the U.S. and California constitutions and that have long been upheld by the United States and California Supreme Courts."

Meanwhile, surfers announced a celebration at the beach Thursday morning, beginning at 9 a.m.

Read the ruling below: