Billionaire's Beach Saga Has a Strange Twist

Vinod Khosla's case rejected by Supreme Court, but he says a win would have 'depressed' him
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 2, 2018 9:35 AM CDT
Billionaire's Beach Saga Has a Strange Twist
A 2014 photo of Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla.   (Karl Mondon/San Jose Mercury News via AP, File)

The public can continue to visit a billionaire's private beach in Northern California—as long as they pony up $10 for parking. That's the upshot of the Supreme Court's decision Monday not to take up the strange saga of Martin's Beach, owned by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla. One reason the saga is strange? Khosla has been fighting in court for a decade to keep the public out, but he has said that victory would have left him "depressed." Details and developments:

  • The land: In 2008, Khosla bought the coastline property encompassing the beach and about 50 cottages, reports NPR. The previous owner allowed people access to the beach through a private road for a $10 fee, but Khosla opted to put up a locked gate. Why? "The costs of keeping the beach, the parking lot, and other facilities in operable and safe condition significantly exceeded the fees the business generated," he said in legal filings.
  • The lawsuit: A group called the Surfrider Foundation sued, saying Khosla couldn't legally block access to the beach under the the state's landmark Coastal Act of 1976, which declares that everyone has a right to beach access, reports the Los Angeles Times.

  • The stakes: Lower courts ruled against Khosla, the result being that his gate has remained open during daylight hours. But his legal team asked the Supreme Court to take up a last appeal, and the case threatened to gut the Coastal Act, which would have had national implications. "If the Supreme Court had taken the case, it could have changed the nature of beach access across the United States," writes Hallie Detrick at Fortune. The court, however, declined to take up the case without comment.
  • The weird part: Khosla might not be too bummed with the latest twist. "If I were to ever win in the Supreme Court, I'd be depressed about it," Khosla told the New York Times this year. "I support the Coastal Act. I don't want to weaken it by winning." So why the legal fight? Because "property rights are even more important." Also of note: Khosla doesn't even swim.
  • The celebration: "The most conservative and divided Supreme Court in my lifetime confirmed that even a billionaire, who refuses to acknowledge that the law applies to him, and retains the most expensive attorneys he can find, cannot create a private beach," says Joseph Cotchett, lead attorney for the Surfrider Foundation.
  • Now what: The controversy isn't quite over. Khosla will now apply for a state permit to close his private road. A state court had previously ordered him to do so, because the move affects beach access. Another possible outcome: The state is looking into acquiring land to build a state-owned entryway to the beach, reports the LA Times.
(Read more Vinod Khosla stories.)

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