“The Surfrider Foundation fights to preserve the rights of the many from becoming the assets of the few. We are protecting everyone’s right to visit, enjoy and protect the beach, regardless of background, socio-economic class or residential location.” -Angela T. Howe, Esq., Legal Director for the Surfrider Foundation
A small group of thoughtful, committed individuals took a stand – again – for coastal access this week. Surfrider staff and activists turned out to Thursday's California State Lands Commission meeting in Long Beach to push the agency to declare eminent domain at Martins Beach.
Martins Beach is a pristine section of the coast just south of Half Moon Bay in Northern California that, like all California beaches, is owned by the public from the mean high-tide down. The current conflict arose because the only way for the public to get to that beach is by using a road that is on property purchased by billionaire Vinod Khosla in 2008. While previous owners allowed the public to use the road to access the beach for a small parking fee, Khosla illegally closed the gate to the public. This prevented the public from accessing the beach that they have full ownership of, ending generations of visitors to the beach.
The Surfrider Foundation is working at many levels to restore public access for past, current and future visitors to again enjoy what is rightfully theirs. Surfrider filed litigation in 2013 under the California Coastal Act, which states that any change to public beach access requires a permit, which Khosla continues to decline to apply for. During the past five years, the Surfrider Foundation has been successful at three different levels of California courts. Now, Khosla has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. We continue to fight for beach access for all people, regardless of background, class, demographics or geographic location.
In the meantime, Surfrider is working to urge the California State Lands Commission to move forward with eminent domain to open Martins Beach for this and future generations. This has been years in the making:
- 2014 – California State Senator Jerry Hill (D – San Mateo) introduces SB 968, a bill aimed at restoring public access to Martin’s Beach by directing the State Lands Commission (SLC) to negotiate a right of way or easement from the property owner. If access cannot be negotiated by 2016, the Commission may acquire the land using other mechanisms, such as eminent domain; SB 968 passes; Governor Jerry Brown signs SB 968 into law, thus creating a state-led process for acquiring access to Martin's Beach.
- 2015 – SLC commences discussions with the property manager; Surfrider Foundation holds a public workshop to solicit input on public access preferences; SLC makes an offer to purchase an easement from property owner Vinod Khosla; offer is not responded to, but counter offer to "trade" for another public beach in California is put on the table by Khosla; SLC continues with good faith negotiations into 2016.
- 2016 – Vinod Khosla files a lawsuit against the SLC, the California Coastal Commission, and the San Mateo County Planning and Building Dept, as well as the individuals associated with those agencies, alleging that they have coerced and harassed him in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution; State Senator Jerry Hill introduces Senate Bill 42 to establish an account to acquire an easement to Martins Beach; SLC staff reports that they have reached an impasse in negotiations; the Commission again directs staff to research the process of proceeding with eminent domain, but stops short of authorizing staff to proceed with eminent domain.
- 2017 – SB 42 passes the state legislature, but is vetoed by Governor Brown because the bill language is not expansive enough to allow SLC to use funds from the subaccount to support acquisition via eminent domain, and he felt it was important to preserve eminent domain as an option.
- 2018 – Senator Hill works with the Governor’s office and SLC to create a Martins Beach "subaccount" in the Kapiloff Land Bank Fund and authorize a transfer of up to $1 million from the Land Bank Fund into the subaccount; noting that SLC now has the direction and funding to proceed with eminent domain, Surfrider Foundation and allies request the agency do so without delay.
The question now is, Will SLC formally direct and authorize staff to proceed with the eminent domain proceedings to acquire and easement to and along Martins Beach?
The answer to that question is critical to the longtime users of Martins Beach, from generations of families who've gathered for annual celebrations at the beach to new visitors driven to seek relief from ever-increasing inland temperatures. Whether or not SLC acts also shows how seriously – or not – the state takes its commitment to California's Coastal Act. What happens there will set the stage for access rights everywhere. That’s why a little beach in a semi-remote area on the central coast of California became one of Surfrider’s national priorities in 2013 – and why it’s stayed one since.
We know the State Lands Commission has the power of the law behind them and that they've expressed a willingness to go down the path of eminent domain for years now. That willingness is why Surfrider Foundation and allies have fought – successfully – for legislation and funding to help SLC do just that. We have no time to lose. People are getting older, court cases are looming. We expect to see the option of pursuing eminent domain on SLC's October 18 agenda.
How to help
- Keep the pressure on the State Lands Commission to take the steps necessary to declare eminent domain at their October 18 meeting!
- Encourage Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom to follow through on his resolve "to provide public access to this public resource" and #OpenMartinsBeach.
- Donate to the Martins Beach fund.
- Join Surfrider if you haven't already!
“Our group of 15-20 friends and family members joined together at Martins Beach on the last Sunday of October nearly every year, for 27 years. Our party included all ages, from toddlers (our youngest was two years old when we first started going) to my mother’s generation, who still joined us even into her 80’s. Our group spent time at the beach wading, picnicking, building sand castles, exploring the little creek outlet, birdwatching, and observing marine life on the beach and in the ocean. Even though we were all traveling a long way, we always assumed the beach would be open and accessible, to us and others. Our multi-generational annual tradition ended in 2008, when we were shocked and surprised to find a locked gate.” -Julie Baller Graves, visitor of Martins Beach
“I’m 72 years old and remember when the road to Martins Beach was just dirt. We would go picnicking and freely use the beach – all free of charge. Even in the 1960’s, the beach was free of charge and my husband and I would go on dates there. My family used that beach for free for three generations. I feel the road is part of the history of the Half Moon Bay area and should not be closed to the public.” -Joan Meacham, visitor of Martins Beach