A long-standing dispute over access to a public beach is coming to a head. And legendary venture capitalist Vinod Khosla will appear in court to explain his side of the story.
Khosla, who (through a trust) owns a stretch of land along the San Francisco peninsula adjacent to the disputed beach, will appear in San Mateo County Superior Court next week.
The Surfrider Foundation, an environmental organization devoted to protecting and preserving beaches and oceans, challenged Khosla’s trust with a lawsuit filed last year. That’s because the trust shut down access to a popular public beach, called Martins Beach, shortly after it acquired the property for $37.5 million in 2008.
For much of the time since the trust closed the beach, it wasn’t even clear who the owner of the property really was, apart from the name of the trust: “Martins Beach LLC.” Now, however, it is clear that the trust owning the property is among the holdings of Khosla and his wife.
Khosla’s lawyers resisted requiring him to appear in court. Today, the judge ruled that he will have to testify next week.
“The guy is trying to hide behind the corporate veil,” said Pete McCloskey, a former U.S. congressman and a principal at the law firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, which is representing the Surfrider Foundation. “That veil was lifted.”
Under California law since 1972, beaches are public property from the high-tide mark down to the water. But private property owners can control access to public beaches in some cases, which is why you and I can’t go surfing in Malibu.
The dispute is whether the road leading to Martins Beach is a public right of way or not. Khosla maintains it is private property and has closed it off.
Surfers and other locals maintain it is a public right of way, as it was been open to public access for decades prior to Khosla’s ownership. The prior owners of the property didn’t charge for access to the road or the beach, although they did charge parking fees.
The dispute puts Khosla on the opposite side of erstwhile supporters. Khosla, through his venture capital firm, Khosla Ventures, has backed many companies devoted to green technologies and renewables.
“It’s a hell of a case,” said McCloskey, who said he used to visit Martins Beach from his days as a Stanford undergraduate in the 1950s through his terms as a representative, which ended in 1983.
“Money should not be able to restrict access to public property,” he added. “It’s as simple as that.”