7 years later, Sun Microsystems cofounder Vinod Khosla loses bid to privatize public beach


Thanks for the voice of sanity in these comments. It’s a question of access to what all parties agree is private property (above the mean high tide line). The Coastal Act of 1972 says that if there ever was public access, it can’t be revoked. Since the owners of this beach have always charged an entry fee, Vinod was arguing that there was never public access, so he’s not obliged to provide any. Personally I think he’s right about that, but I’m glad to have access to that beautiful beach just the same.


Based on what you’ve said, it would be great if people simply bypassed his private road. He can charge a high toll, but there’s nothing to prevent someone from transporting people there by water or air and charging much less, right?


Can’t people just walk along the beach from somewhere else?


Good question, but sounds doubtful if he’s succeeded for so long by preventing road access.


Invite the world to a party they may access via the public easement to the public coast line on his birthday, just outside his private residence.

My guess is his hope was to close the parking lot for 7-10 years and then claim the entire easement had gone away, but the lawsuit makes that impossible.


Thank you. I’ve repeatedly tried to explain this case here on BoingBoing, but they just keep repeating the same old spin-doctored “privatizing public beach” version.

But one more time, just for the record, and quoting myself from a previous instance (since nothing significant in the case has changed since then):

As the court’s decision clearly says,

"It is undisputed that Martins Beach is private property. "

This is a complicated case, in part because the undivided parcel’s title dates back to the original Spanish land grant, which alters the usual “mean-high-tide” equation, which only applies to land entitled under US California state law. (And, no, children, that is not some irrelevant technicality.) But that was not a factor in the current decision.

The property’s previous owners had allowed public access to their private beach in return for payment of a parking fee. Khosla, as the new owner, closed this access.

And this ruling is even trickier than it looks, because it basically turns on the principle that locking a gate and painting over a sign constitutes ‘development’ under California law, because it changes the intensity of public use of the beach, and therefore requires a Coastal Development Permit - which Khosla didn’t apply for.

The Coastal Act requires a Coastal Development Permit for any development that changes the intensity of public use of the beach. And Spanish land-grant titles don’t exempt you from that.

The only news in the present story is that a higher court has now affirmed the lower court’s decision that closing the road is "unpermitted development*, and therefore illegal without a CDP, a Coastal Deveopment Permit.

It’s still a private road across private property to a private beach.

There is no public beach, and no easement exists.

Khosla could, theoretically, still get a CDP, but he has to apply to the Coastal Commission to get one, and he hasn’t done that.


I have read the case filings. (-:

Actually, one of the more complicated bits is that the CCA’s public-access rules don’t apply to this land, since they only apply to land entitled by the State of California, and the current title descends from the federal patent and quitclaim issued by the California Land Commission of 1851, pursuant to the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, validating the original Spanish land grant — and thus predates the State of California.

Lots of people believe the CCA applies everywhere in California, but, sadly, it doesn’t always.

(Fortunately, most coastal parcels deeded by Spanish or Mexican land grant have been subsequently sub-divided, with the resultant new titles subject to California State rules. Khosla’s parcel is a rare exception to that.)

Additionally, Khosla has a valid claim to the ‘land and tidelands,’ since that’s what the Spanish grant specified. “Tidelands” is everything between mean high tide and mean low tide, in contrast to the usual California rule that “everything below mean high tide is public.”

He doesn’t want to allow public access to his private beach, but the court says he can’t close the existing private road without a Coastal Development Permit.

This is neither the “privatizing public land” outrage it’s being spun as, nor the wonderful moral victory for public access being claimed.

But if you’re actually paying attention and not just shouting along with the rabble-rousers, it’s an illuminating exercise in the politics of California Land Use. (-:



Are those particularly hard to get, for someone who can afford to hire experts to get it done?

I’m trying to figure why he didn’t go that route in the first place.


IANAL, but I was a juror on a civil case in California that had to do with a new homeowners trying to block access to a footpath on their property that historically had been open to neighbors as a shortcut. Another property owner, who came from New York and had the adjoining property, was also subject to this public easement. They were not happy at all to find out that they had to continue to allow access, based upon California law. They claimed ignorance, but the plaintiffs called the previous homeowner who maintained that he spoke at length to the new owners about this issue.

I see that @jlw touches on the public easement question further down thread. Once you allow people to have access, it’s tough to remove.


But the court case is (and was) quite clear about the fact that no public easement exists.

The previous owners had allowed public access with the payment of a parking fee, but that doesn’t create an easement.

Surfrider attempted to purchase an easement, but Khosla demanded a higher price than they wanted to pay (to pay for security, restrooms and other improvements he felt such an easement would require).

I’m perfectly well aware of the law surrounding involuntary easements, but no such easement exists here, and the courts have already confirmed that.


They range from difficult to impossible, and can often include quid pro quo conditions; most commonly providing public access where none was previously required.

Most likely, the CCC would deny the permit, maybe offering it in return for providing alternate access.

Khosla doesn’t want to permit any access, and was insisting that closing a private road to a private beach on private property was entirely within the property owner’s right, and should not require a Coastal Development Permit.

The courts have disagreed with him now, so if he still wants to close the road, he’ll need a CDP, and they probably won’t give him one without requiring some form of access.

He can afford to appeal a CCC decision (a long,expensive, and complicated process, with generally poor prospects for success) and he might even succeed, given that the CCC has very little legitimate basis for denying the permit (IANAL, but…).

But it’s still a private road on private property leading to a private beach, and no public easement exists.


Would an access easement include the right to park one’s car? Could he simply tow any cars parked on his land.


I confess your question puzzles me, since there is no easement. If Surfrider or someone else were to purchase an easement, then it would allow whatever its terms specify (And would almost certainly include the right to park cars.)

But no access easement exists, since only unpermitted access creates involuntary access easements. Access given by explicit permission of the owner creates no easement, and the car-park fee is an explicit permit.

Permitted access can be revoked at any time at the property owners’ whim.

It’s only when there’s a history of continuous use without explicit permission that the “involuntary easement” provisions kick in.


I suppose I was really asking two related questions. Is he obliged by this ruling to allow people to park on his land? and do access easements usually imply the right to store one’s vehicle on the property or just the right to transit through?


if someone has to pay to use the road then it is not open to the public, it is available to them. The path you speak of, if its the one I remember, was cleaned up and maintained by the neighbors and there was no fee.


Except that it now looks that the beach itself is private as well as the land behind it with the road. I’m betting he researched the land grant history and specifically bought this land because of it’s unique feature of not having to adhere to California’s beach access law. As far as I can see so far it is like somebody buying a golf course and deciding they no longer want anyone else playing on it so they dissolve the business and close the gates.


Khosla is blocking access to the beach, which is the key point in the case(s).

Thankfully, no, that’s not at all what is happening here.

The beaches are public, but this guy should be able to do as he wishes with his private land.[/quote]

Nope, sorry. You can’t do whatever you want on/with your land, and in California, you can’t block access to the beach. The end. Khosla will lose this fight, and I’m glad to watch him waste his money doing so, because he’s going to set a precedent for every other billionaire asshole who thinks only she or he can own the beach.


Oh gods, this is weird-ass legacy shit, isn’t it? The current act doesn’t directly mention Spanish land grants, so unextinguished grants must be very rare, and they’ve carefully buried it with phraseology somewhere (a “space between the notes” problem), and you’d have to know exactly where to dig to find it.


I expect that they deal with these kind of legacy problems better in the UK, since they probably have so many. e,g, Some grant by the Kingdom of Wessex that accidentally wasn’t cancelled by the Lord Protector’s Parliament act of “Sod all thys ancient crappee”.


I believe the state has already enacted legislation permitting confiscation of this piece of property by eminent domain if Khosla does not permit access. Condemnation would certainly be the easiest way to get rid of this kind of legacy annoyance.