Billionaire Property Owner Vinod Khosla Testifies In Martin's Beach Public Access Case

In court Monday, an attorney questioned the venture capitalist on the stand for about 90 minutes as part of his argument that Khosla failed to obtain proper permitting when closing off Martin's Beach access.

Reported by Bay City News Service: 

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla testified Monday afternoon in San Mateo Superior Court in the public access case at Martin's Beach near Half Moon Bay, which has been blocked to surfers and beachgoers since 2010. 

Khosla purchased the popular surfing spot, located just off state Highway 1 a few miles south of Half Moon Bay, in 2008 for $37.5 million. 

Since the purchase, a gate and restrictive signs were put up on the road leading to the shore in 2010, which opponents claim is in violation of the California Coastal Act of 1976. 

Surfers and other proponents of public access have protested the path closure by going around the gate to gain access to the legendary swells that break at the secluded cove. 

A group of five surfers were arrested in 2012 for trespassing on the property while heading to the beach area. The San Mateo County District Attorney dropped those charges. 

Since then, there have been two lawsuits filed against Khosla, the cofounder of Sun Microsystems. 

The Surfrider Foundation filed a lawsuit in March 2013 with the Burlingame-based Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy law firm representing the surf group. That suit went to trial last week. 

In court Monday, attorney Joe Cotchett questioned Khosla on the stand for about 90 minutes as part of his argument that Khosla failed to obtain a proper permitting. He contended that Khosla is violating the California Coastal Act. 

Khosla, wearing a black sports coat over a black shirt, provided few details in his testimony, repeatedly citing attorney-client privilege and that he did not recall specific business decisions, documents and conversations. 

In response to a line of questioning about his intent in purchasing the beachside property, Khosla responded, "I had no specific plans for the property." 

Cotchett contended that Khosla bought the land with the intention of putting up a private residence. 

The attorney asked him what he understood about public access in the area, to which Khosla responded, "My intent...was to find out what the law says." 

As to the gate and restricted access, which includes security guards at the entrance, Cotchett tried to pry information from Khosla about authorizing those decisions without getting a permit. 

Khosla claimed any decisions about the beach through the property manager, Steven Baughter, who was seated in the front of the courtroom. 

"He makes those decisions," he said. "I would assume he makes the decision on whether the gate is open or closed. I would not know who instructed him (to close the gate)." 

At one point he told the lawyer, "You should ask him, not me," about managing the property. Baughter was scheduled to testify in court Tuesday. 

Cotchett ended his questioning by asking Khosla about his understanding of the history of the beach and previous access and use of the property. 

Khosla reiterated that he intends to see what the law says on the public access issue rather than public opinion. 

Out of court Khosla declined to comment on the case. 

Cotchett said after the hearing that Khosla displays "an arrogance that defies common sense." 

He said Khosla's testimony shows that he believes he has a right to close a beach that has been accessible to the public for decades. 

"I don't think so," Cotchett said. "I don't think that's the law and I don't think that's right." 

Former U.S. Rep. Pete McCloskey, who has been working with the plaintiffs on the case, called Khosla's testimony, "foolishness." He said Khosla used attorney-client privilege to avoid admitting that he violated the Coastal Act. 

"This arrogant guy doesn't want to ask for a permit," he said. 

McCloskey said locals and surfers "treasure this particular beach," but the public access issues have implications for beaches and beachfront development along the California coast and beyond. 

Before Khosla took the stand, Cotchett brought in Jerry Smith, a former state senator, who helped craft the Coastal Act in the 1970s, for what he said, was designed to protect the coast and make it accessible to the public. 

Khosla's attorney Jeff Essner used the opportunity in a cross-examination to note that the Act was also designed to protect private property rights. 

Another separate lawsuit, filed by an attorney on behalf of the group "Friends of Martin's Beach," went to trial in San Mateo County Superior Court last October. The judge ruled in Khosla's favor. Because of the decision, surfers and others have since been only able to access the secluded shoreline by water. That ruling is heading toward an appeals process.

A Delargo May 14, 2014 at 12:08 PM
It's his property, the parcel carries rights that pre-date the coastal commission rules. Drive another 1/2 mile down the beach for pete's sake ! If I paid over 37 million for a parcel of property I wouldn't want a bunch of surfers staggering down my hillside.... I'm sure most of them are super citizens... but some will surely be drunken slime.... would you want any of that on YOUR 37 million dollar property ?
Donna Coutchavlis-Wong May 14, 2014 at 05:42 PM
^ Obviously this person with this comment is not from "HMB" (Yes, an abbreviation for Half Moon Bay). And I take offense of calling surfers who need to be on top of their game when riding The Pacific Oceans Critical waves as "drunken slime". We don't give a hoot about his property but, we do care that the California Coastline with it's beaches are accessible to all to enjoy. Monetary arrogance has no weight here.
A Delargo May 15, 2014 at 01:06 PM
So if surfers cannot access this particular property, they will not be 'on top of their game' ? They have to drive there anyway, they can drive another 3 minutes the next beach. I'm sure most of these people are super citizens, but it is inevitable that dirtbags will also be there. If I paid 37 million for a parcel of property that carried a provision that predated the coastal commission, you can bet your surf booties that I'd maintain it's privacy, and odds are you would too. The owner will prevail if the rule of law is followed. The courts will decide.
Brian Ginna May 16, 2014 at 10:02 PM
Forgive me for asking Donna, but when were you appointed spokesperson for HMB? "We don't give a hoot about his property " That much is evident. Can I camp in your backyard for a month or so? For free?


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