A San Mateo County Superior Court judge on Thursday granted the private owner of Martin's Beach near Half Moon Bay the rights to the property after one of two lawsuits by proponents of open access attempted to keep the surfing hotspot accessible to all.
Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled in favor of the Martin's Beach property owner, who purchased the shoreline property just off of state Highway 1 a few miles south of Half Moon Bay in 2008.
A gate had gone up in 2010 and restrictive signs were erected to deter beachgoers going through the property to access the beach, which in year’s past was open to the public in exchange for a small fee.
Surfers and other supporters of open access have claimed that it is nearly impossible to reach the spot known for its swells that break over underwater reefs without going through the path from the road.
In the past year, protesters have gone past the gate and walked onto the beach to surf and access the coast as part of demands for open access to the public.
In 2012, a group of five surfers were arrested for trespassing on the property.
The first lawsuit was filed in October 2012 against Martin's Beach 1 and 2, LLC, by the group known as "Friends of Martin's Beach." That group argued that beachgoers have the right to cross private property to access the beach.
The group of three surfers was represented by Santa Cruz-based attorney Gary Redenbacher, who said he was going to appeal the judge's decision.
"Anyone who wants to go to the beach in California with their family should care about this," Redenbacher said.
Judge Buchwald made his decision Thursday on the ruling based on the history of the property between 1840 and 1865. Since there was no public easement attached to the property at the time the United States acquired California from Mexico in the mid-19th century, the question of whether the California Constitution now guarantees access to the beach is immaterial, said Buchwald.
Attorneys for Martins Beach LLC argued that, because the land including Martins Beach was in private hands before the state of California came into existence in 1840, the state never owned the property. Therefore, they reasoned, any California law that might require public access to the beach does not apply.
Still, the nation's high court exempted this property from the full reach of California law before the state came into existence, Buchwald explained to attorneys on Thursday.A separate lawsuit was filed in March by the Burlingame-based Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy law firm on behalf of the Surfrider Foundation.
That suit claims the owners failed to obtain a coastal development permit for the new gates and restrictive signs that prevent the pubic from accessing Martin's Beach Road, which is a violation of the California Coastal Act.
That case is expected to go to trial next spring.
Court records from the Friends of Martin's Beach suit name venture capitalist Vinod Khosla as the presumed primary owner of the property.
Jeff Essner, an attorney from the San Jose-based law firm Hopkins & Carley, said in a statement that the judge found that there is no precedent that gives the public access to the property.
"The property owner strives to be a constructive member of the community, but it is difficult to have this conversation without the legal clarification on property rights," the statement said. "We are pleased with this ruling and thankful for this clarification."
The private-property owner of Martin’s Beach is within his rights to block the public from accessing the beach, a judge rules, yet that hasn’t stopped the public from accessing the beach, claiming it was their right to traverse the property under the state constitution. What do you think of the judge’s ruling?