Beach Access, Legal
March 10 2017

Four Years and Counting: The Lawsuit to Open Martin’s Beach

by Angela Howe

The Surfrider Foundation believes that our beaches should be accessible for all to enjoy, and we continue to fight to keep Martin’s Beach open to the public. Four years ago, the Surfrider Foundation filed one of our highest profile lawsuits to date with the Surfrider Foundation v. Martin’s Beach I and Martin’s Beach II, LLC.  This lawsuit was filed after several years of unsuccessful local advocacy and campaign work to encourage the property owner to open the beach without litigation. At the time, the official ownership of Martin’s Beach property was rumored to be tech venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, but the ownership relationship was not yet confirmed.  Through the discovery process in parallel litigation, we now know that Khosla is indeed the owner of the property and behind the decision to put a locked gate, security guard and deterring signage on Martin’s Beach Road.

Martin’s Beach Litigation Update

While Surfrider celebrated a strong victory at the lower court with Judge Barbara Mallach’s decision in December of 2014, the case has been on appeal since that time.  At the First Appellate District, we have fully briefed the case (meaning we sent forth our arguments on paper) and also submitted supplemental briefing requested by the court last month surrounding questions of due process, takings, and relief under the Coastal Act.  We eagerly await assignment of the three-judge panel who will hear our case, and we also await a hearing date.  We will again strongly argue that the property owner has acted in contravention of the California Coastal Act by changing the intensity of use of the coastline (i.e. took actions to greatly reduce the number of people to using the beach) without obtaining a Coastal Development Permit for such activity.  This restriction of beach access is illegal under the Coastal Act and contravenes the beach access protection in the California Constitution.

"It's been an exciting and successful four years of legal work to ensure that generations of use of Martins Beach is not lost and that all property owners along the coast comply with the Coastal Act,” says attorney Eric Buescher, Surfrider’s lead counsel from Cotchett, Pitre, & McCarthy. “I look forward to continuing the fight in the years to come and to protecting the public's access to the invaluable public resources that are our State's beaches and ocean.”

In the separate Friends of Martin’s Beach case, there was a hearing on March 23, 2016. A three-judge appellate panel heard from both sides.  At that trial, Khosla’s attorney Dori Yob admitted that her client does not claim that he owns title to the submerged tidal lands, that Judge Buchwald arguably granted to property owner with the lower court opinion.  In April of this past year, the Appellate Court ruled that the plaintiff’s dedication claim should be reinstated and that the trial court could establish that former owners had granted a public right of access that the current owner must honor as well.  The case is headed back before the trial court to evaluate the facts surrounding the implied or express dedication of the access through past words and actions. 

Martin’s Beach Legislation Update

On Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee will be discussing Senate Bill 42, introduced by Senator Jerry Hill as a funding mechanism to the State Lands Commission (“SLC”) for an option to open the beach accessway through eminent domain (or state acquisition of the easement). This bill follows through on the state legislature’s passage of SB 968 in 2014, which required the SLC to consult with the private property owner for a period of one year to purchase all or a portion of the property for a public access road to Martin’s Beach. Under SB 968, if the purchase could not be negotiated, the state agency would be allowed to use condemnation to obtain ownership of the road to be used for the benefit of the public trust. Join us and take action to support the bill.

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