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Billionaire Vinod Khosla’s appeal against public access to beach snubbed by US Supreme Court

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A state judge last year ordered Khosla to unblock public access to Martins Beach which the latter did right after buying an 89-acre property in 2008.

San Francisco: The US Supreme Court refused to review a ruling that requires billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to at least temporarily let the public onto to a California beach he owns — and Khosla says he will keep fighting.

The rejection is a victory for a local group seeking access to Martins Beach, a crescent-shaped cove an hour south of San Francisco.

Homes sit along Martins Beach in Half Moon Bay, California | David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

“This is great news for the public, for California, for Californians,” said Eric Buescher, a lawyer for Surfrider Foundation, the organisation that brought the lawsuit. “The decision here means that the [state] Coastal Act will continue to protect Californians’ right to access public resources.”

The beach had been open to the public for decades before Khosla bought the 89-acre property in 2008 for $32.5 million and shut off the lone road leading there. A state judge had ordered his holding companies to restore that access.

No trespassing signage is displayed on a gate leading to Martins Beach on 16 July 2014 | David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The Supreme Court action doesn’t preclude Khosla from applying for a permit that could eventually let him close the road and thus exclude visitors, and Khosla says he will do just that — meaning more years of litigation on the issue could lie ahead.

“No owner of private business should be forced to obtain a permit from the government before deciding who it wants to invite onto its property,” said Dori Yob Kilmer, an attorney for Khosla, in an emailed statement. She said her client will apply for the permit, and if denied, “will start this process over again.”

Khosla says the Constitution requires California to compensate him if the state forces him, even temporarily, to let people onto the beach. “The government simply cannot command that parties open their private property to the public without compensation,” the appeal argued.

Khosla was fighting the Surfrider Foundation, which sued in 2013 in California court under a 1976 state coastal-protection law that says the public owns all coastline on the ocean side of the mean high-tide line. The group said the court order was designed to “preserve the status quo” while Khosla applies for a permit.

The beach is sheltered on the north and south by high cliffs, making a single access road the only practical route. The previous owners used the property as a business, charging visitors for parking and maintaining restrooms and a small convenience store.

Khosla closed the access road a few months after he bought the property. County officials then told him he needed a permit before taking any steps affecting public access to the beach.

The Supreme Court appeal was part of a multifaceted legal fight. The state itself wasn’t a party to the case, though the California Coastal Commission filed a brief supporting Surfrider at a state appeals court. The commission has threatened to slap Khosla with penalties that could total millions of dollars.

A separate case filed by Khosla that had been working through federal courts alleged harassment and unfair treatment by state and county officials. In August, Judge Jeffrey White mostly granted those officials’ motions to dismiss Khosla’s complaints, with a few exceptions, including allowing an equal-protection claim concerning a retaining wall to proceed. The district court in Oakland, California also allowed Khosla to amend and resubmit certain claims.

Khosla, 63, is the founder of Khosla Ventures and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, now part of Oracle Corp.

The case is Martins Beach 1 v. Surfrider Foundation, 17-1198. –Bloomberg

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