VIA – MERCURY NEWS
Surfers organize Martin’s Beach protest, owner’s attorney speaks
By Aaron Kinney
With surfers and activists planning a protest Saturday at the locked gate of Martin’s Beach, the attorney for the secretive owner of the property offered a vigorous defense of the decision to close the beach to outsiders.
Former San Jose city attorney Joan Gallo, who represents Martins Beach LLC, the listed owner of the crescent-shaped beach, declined to confirm that the man behind that entity is Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. However, on Thursday, the attorney offered a first public explanation of the owner’s legal position.
“It’s a fundamental constitutional property right that’s at issue here,” said Gallo, referring to an owner’s right to control or deny access to property. Upon purchasing the land for $37.5 million in 2008, Martins Beach LLC reversed a decades-long practice by the previous owner of allowing public access to the beach for a small, per-person fee.
“There is no right of public access,” said Gallo. “The access has always been private by invitation.”
Public vs. private
Surfers, environmentalists and families who used to visit the beach claim that, in cases where the public historically has had continuous access to the coast through private property, the state can enforce the preservation of that access. San Mateo County has enlisted the California Coastal Commission in its fight to reopen the private road leading to the beach.
Nancy Cave, supervisor of the Coastal Commission’s Northern California enforcement program, said the act of locking the gate along Highway 1 to the private road requires a coastal development permit, which has not been granted.
“When they closed the gate, they changed the use of that property,” said Cave, whose organization is investigating Martin’s Beach on several fronts. “Before they closed the gate, the public, in addition to the tenants, could use the property.”
By tenants, Cave was referring to dwellers in some of the roughly 40 bungalows within the property that line a slope overlooking the beach. Some are well-kept and others are in disrepair. The homeowners lease the land from Martins Beach LLC. Most of the leases expire by 2021.
No parking place
The stretch of ground just above the beach where outside visitors once parked their cars has eroded significantly, and the facilities they used, including bathrooms, are now out of order.
Janie Chambers, who owns a small home a Frisbee toss from the beach, said Thursday that she’s sympathetic to the public’s right to enjoy the coast, but feels the owner shouldn’t be forced to bear the costs of operating a public beach, from improving and maintaining the restrooms to cleaning up trash. There’s also the question of where people would park, since there’s little room up by the gate.
“It’s beautiful and needs to be enjoyed,” Chambers said of the cliff-lined beach. “There’s just no place to park.”
The previous owner figured out these practical matters, so the new owner should be able to as well, according to the San Mateo County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which is organizing a noon rally Saturday off Highway 1 to intensify the pressure on the owner to reopen the gate. The organization has reached out to the owner but says it has been rebuffed.
“As far as we’re concerned, he’s violating the Coastal Act,” said Edmundo Larena, chairman of the chapter. “It really is a big loss to the public.”
The foundation received a letter from Gallo last year that cited Khosla by name, appearing to confirm his ownership, and asked the surfers to respect the billionaire’s privacy. When a reporter for this newspaper later cornered Khosla in the parking lot of his Menlo Park office, he hurried away, refusing to comment.
“The owner is Martins Beach LLC,” Gallo said Thursday when asked to put any lingering questions about the ownership to rest. “(This issue) has nothing to do with personalities. It has everything to do with the rights of a property owner.”
Gallo said the owner has…
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