Beach Access, Legal
June 13 2018

Martin’s Beach Update: Surfrider Files Brief in Opposition

by Angela Howe

Today, the Surfrider Foundation filed its Brief in Opposition to Vinod Khosla's request for a hearing at the United States Supreme Court.  Khosla's "Petition for Writ of Certiorari" is aimed at undoing the victories for beach access at the California trial court, appellate court and state supreme court levels.  Specifically, Khosla is claiming that the requirement that he apply for a permit under the Coastal Act is a violation of his constitutional rights, even though this was also evaluated in the state courts. We see no reason that the US Supreme Court would need to review these strong and unanimous decisions from the state courts on this state coastal management issue.

Surfrider Foundation is exceedingly grateful to our expert counsel at California Appellate Law Group and Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy for their artful crafting of the brief. Here are some selected quotes from the argument: 

"To make their situation appear compelling, petitioners mischaracterize the opinions below. Despite their assertions, the injunction does not require petitioners to run a business. It simply requires that the gate across Martins Beach Road must be un-locked and open to the same extent that it was unlocked and open at the time petitioners purchased the property." (Brief in Opposition at p. 1.)

"This case involves a fact-specific application of a California statute to a property where public access has existed for a century. The public access rights over that property remain in dispute in pending state court litigation, and the state has yet to take final action. The Court of Appeal took its responsibility seriously and issued a lengthy opinion carefully considering all the arguments petitioners made. The California Supreme Court saw no need to review the holding. There is no split of authority on this issue, and no need for this Court’s review." (Brief in Opposition at p. 25.)

"This case involves two companies that bought prime beachfront property with full knowledge that the public had accessed the beach across that land for nearly a century, . . . [and then] completely cut off public access to the coast in the fall of 2009." (Brief in Opposition at pp. 3, 5.)

"The trial court’s injunction simply preserves the status quo until petitioners apply for a permit and the government issues its decision on that application. After that, either the permit will be approved and there will be no government restriction, or the Coastal Commission’s determination on the permit will apply. That determination, along with the factual record created before the Coastal Commission, will provide the basis for analyzing any future takings claim at Martins Beach." (Brief in Opposition at p. 10.)

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“The Surfrider Foundation fights to protect everyone’s right to visit, enjoy and conserve coastal areas,” said Angela Howe, Surfrider’s Legal Director. “Our local volunteers in San Mateo have been inspirational in their campaign for access at Martins Beach. Today is another step toward a victory for the people of California, as we are pleased to be able to present this strong brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“For five years, the owner has promised to take this case to the Supreme Court, and today, we had the opportunity to provide our perspective on that case,” said Joe Cotchett of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.  “This is not about a land owner being forced to run a business by an oppressive government. It is about a billionaire, who refuses to acknowledge that the law applies to him, attempting to create a private beach through great wealth. But beaches are public in California, and the ability to purchase exclusivity does not place anyone above the law.”

As Eric Buescher of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy stated:  “The appellate court’s decision was not new, novel or inconsistent with other law, and does not demand Supreme Court review.”  Mr. Buescher went on to explain, “Martins Beach is a vital and important part of the fabric of the San Mateo community. California’s courts painstakingly reviewed the unique history of the property and the abrupt termination of coastal access, and enjoined the owner from ending a century of access until he submitted a permit application to the Coastal Commission.” 

Rob Caughlan, the former President of Surfrider and a long-time surfer at Martins Beach, is looking forward to the end of the litigation and the return of the historical access. “The reason that access to Martins Beach is important is the same reason that access to Yosemite is important. Martins Beach is a California treasure.”

“We view protecting public access as one of our highest priorities,” said John Claussen, the chair of the Surfrider Foundation San Mateo County Chapter. “It is important that public access is protected and preserved, and that threats to access are challenged. Martins Beach is just one example of that struggle, and we are glad to work to preserve the public's right to use the coast throughout San Mateo County and California.”

“Surfrider and Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy’s victory in 2014 affirmed that Californians have the right to access and enjoy the coast and that all landowners must comply with the Coastal Act,” said Pete McCloskey, a long time environmentalist and advocate, and Of Counsel at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. “California’s court of appeal affirmed that in a lengthy and detailed opinion that carefully considered all of the arguments. The Supreme Court does not need to again review that decision.”