California's Governor and legislature have taken a stand to permanently restore public access to Martins Beach by passing and signing into law legislation that authorizes funding for the state to acquire an easement or right of way to Martins Beach.
The state’s 2018-2019 budget was passed by the California State Legislature just ahead of the June 15 deadline. As part of the budget process, the legislature also passed a budget trailer bill pertaining to public resources, which advances the access effort by establishing the Martins Beach subaccount in the Land Bank Fund and authorizing the transfer of up to $1 million into the account for the purpose of acquiring an easement or right-of-way to permanently establish a public access way to Martins Beach. The account, which will be administered by the California State Lands Commission, will allow for public and private funds to be collected toward the end objective of permanently protecting public access to Martins Beach. On June 27, Governor Jerry Brown signed these bills, putting them into effect.
These bills are the latest in legislative efforts to address the ongoing public access closures at Martins Beach and protect access to the beaches of California, which are a public trust resource. Previously, Martins Beach had long been visited by the public, until the property landward of the beach was sold in 2008 to venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. In 2010, Khosla closed the gate across the only road to the beach, no longer allowing regular public access, despite the well-known historical use of the road by the public to access the beach.
This legislative action occurs separately but concurrently to legal action that is being taken by the Surfrider Foundation against Vinod Khosla to open public access to Martins Beach. Surfrider’s lawsuit asserts that Khosla is in violation of the California Coastal Act because his conduct to close and deter public access to Martins Beach constitutes development under the Coastal Act, which has been carried out without benefit of a coastal development permit as required. The California court system has ruled in favor of Surfrider; however, Khosla has appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While this action by the Governor and state legislature substantially aids long, ongoing efforts to facilitate public access to Martins Beach, additional actions will be required before the beach is permanently accessible to the public. These additional actions include securing additional funds for easement acquisition, as well as a decision on the part of the California State Lands Commission to acquire an access easement. Previously, the State Lands Commission voted to instruct staff to prepare a report on the next steps for property acquisition, but the commission has not yet voted to move forward with acquisition. The commission has appraised the fair market value of the easement land at $360,000; however, if the land is acquired via eminent domain, the price of the land is determined by calculating the highest probably price, which may be more than fair market value.
State Senator Jerry Hill (D – San Mateo) has been a crucial driver of the effort to incorporate provisions for Martins Beach into the state budget. Senator Hill authored Senate Bill 42 in 2017, which sought to establish the Martins Beach subaccount and allocate funding for acquisition of a public access easement. The bill passed both houses in 2017; however, Governor Brown vetoed the bill and prevented it from going into effect. The Governor’s veto message conveyed support for public access to our state beaches as a “core value” to the state, but felt that the amended version of the bill passed by the legislature limited the state’s options with regard to how the easement at Martins Beach could be acquired. Senator Hill worked with the Governor’s office thereafter to develop agreeable language that could be incorporated into the 2018-2019 state budget.
“The Surfrider Foundation, our coalition, and the beach-going public are grateful to the state legislature for demonstrating its commitment to protecting public access to California beaches,” said Sarah Damron, Chapter Manager for Surfrider Foundation. “It has been a long road to get here, but finally the end of the battle to restore and permanently protect access to this treasured beach is within sight. We are hopeful that the great-grandchildren of those who historically visited Martins Beach will soon be able to go to the beach undeterred and confident that they won’t confront a locked gate on a beautiful beach day.”
“The state has listened to the people of California,” said Jennifer Savage, California Policy Manager for Surfrider Foundation. “Today, we celebrate the legislature and Governor providing the means to acquire the easement to Martins Beach – and then, tomorrow, we turn our attention back to the State Lands Commission for action on acquiring it.”