This Beach is Closed: Surfers & Beachgoers, Meet the Primacy of Private Property


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Martins Beach - Half Moon Bay

Formerly Martins Beach in Half Moon Bay; with the road closed, I suppose that now we should call it Billionaire’s Beach. (But you’re welcome to go there by boat if you don’t mind the shark-infested waters!)

This isn’t an Orange County story — except that it sort of is an Orange County kind of story, if you know what I mean, even though it’s taking place in Half Moon Bay.  A billionaire has used an 1848 treaty to close public access to the public beach for which he owns the sole road access.  Because there’s still access to the beach from the shark-infested waters, if you start from across two gigantic rock formations, a judge has said “sure, you don’t have to recognize an easement just because people have been using this pathway for over 100 years.  Here’s CNNs video — I found it almost impossible to find, by the way, from the site itself!

When Silicon Valley billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla purchased 53 acres of pristine beachfront property in the community of Half Moon Bay, avid surfer Mike Wallace feared that public access to one of the most scenic beaches on the central California coast would be closed permanently.

Wallace’s fear came true when Khosla indeed closed access and a judge ruled in his favor, a decision that hinged on a court ruling from the 1850s. The dispute raises questions about the balance between private property and public domain, as well as the tech titan’s commitment to the environment as a well-known investor in renewable energy.

Khosla, who co-founded Sun Microsystems, purchased the coastal estate for $37.5 million in 2008. When the sale closed, so did a gate along Martins Beach Road and the only accessible trail to the sand. Locals were outraged, and lawsuits have been flying back and forth ever since.

“One of the unique aspects is it’s also protected by strong north swells and winds and there aren’t too many spots up here north of Santa Cruz that your able to have beautiful clean waves,” said Wallace, who coaches the Half Moon Bay High School surf team.

I believe that you’ve been warned about this thing before now.  (“First they came for the fire rings….”)

So what do you think, Orange Countians?  ”Billionaires Barricade Beaches” OK with you, or not?


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.