The Silicon Valley billionaire who bought and then closed public access to a popular California beach must let the surfers return, a court ruled Thursday. In a 3-0 decision, a state appeals court ruled venture capitalist Vinod Khosla must restore public access to Martins Beach near San Francisco. Martins Beach had been frequented by surfers and fishermen for almost a century before Khosla bought its surrounding 89 acres for $32.5 million in 2008, per the San Jose Mercury News. Shortly after, Khosla, who the Guardian reports does not live on the land, blocked the only road providing beach access. Thursday's decision relates to a suit filed by the Surfrider Foundation in 2013.
The foundation argued that under the 1972 California Coastal Act, Khosla needed to obtain a Coastal Commission permit before changing "the intensity of use of water, or of access," and both a lower court and the appeals court agreed. A lawyer for Surfrider says it's "probably one of the most important public right-of-access cases in the country," with huge implications. He now expects Khosla to appeal to the California Supreme Court. Khosla previously said he would sell a land easement allowing public access to the beach to the State Lands Commission. But though the 6.4-acre stretch chosen is worth about $360,000, Khosla wants $30 million. His lawyer explained the price in December, saying "Khosla is unwilling to be coerced into giving up a vested constitutional property right." A lawsuit in which Khosla accuses the commission of harassment is pending. More on that here. (Read more California stories.)