Surfrider wins Martins Beach lawsuit, court ruling expands the reach of Coastal Act

The Surfrider Foundation has prevailed in its lawsuit against billionaire Vinod Khosla against his effort to close Martins Beach to the public.

Khosla became wealthy after helping to found Sun Microsystems and later became widely known due to his investments (as a venture capitalist) in “green” energy technologies. Those investments have not, on the whole, proved profitable.

In 2008 Vinod secretly purchased the Martins Beach property and later closed the gate leading to the beach, painted over the billboard which indicated public access, and posted “no trespassing” signs. At one point he hired security guards to keep surfers and other curious members of the public off the property.

The Surfrider brought suit against Khosla in March of 2013 claiming that Khosla should have obtained a permit required under the Coastal Act since locking the gate and the other related actions amounted to a reduction in the “intensity of use” of the public portion of the beach.

In her ruling San Mateo Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach said that barring the public indeed amounted to a change in use, despite the fact that there were no physical alterations of the land.

This appears to be a significant expansion of the definition of “intensity of use” under the Coastal Act and may set a precedent for future cases.

In a statement Khosla’s lawyers hinted that they will appeal.

The entire tentative decision (which may be expanded upon at a later date) is posted below:

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