Beach Access, Legal
October 01 2018

U.S. Supreme Court Finalizes Win for Martins Beach Access!

by Angela Howe

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of review of the Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach I and II, LLC case, Surfrider celebrates today a momentous litigation victory that requires open beach access be provided at Martins Beach as it has been for generations. This means the road to the beach must remain unlocked and open to the public until property owner billionaire, Vinod Khosla, applies for and obtains a permit to change access.

The Surfrider Foundation originally filed our complaint under the California Coastal Act in March of 2013 to challenge the locked gates, security guards and changes in signage that restricted access at Martins Beach, in San Mateo County, California. Specifically, we alleged that the conduct that caused a “change of the intensity of use” of the coastline would require a Coastal Development Permit (“CDP”) under Coastal Act Section 30106.

In September 2014, after the Surfrider Foundation won a heated trial at the San Mateo County Superior Court, Judge Barbara Mallach ordered Khosla to "cease preventing the public from accessing and using the water" unless and until a CDP is obtained. Property owner Khosla appealed this ruling in favor of beach access and has continued to do so after the Appellate Court ruled in our favor and the California Supreme Court declined to hear the case.   

Khosla today was rejected on his final opportunity for appeal, up to the highest court in the land, with the denial of the Petition for Certiorari by the United States Supreme Court. Despite hiring one of the most prominent Supreme Court lawyers in the nation with Paul Clement and fiercely arguing that the case should be taken up as a 5th Amendment Takings case versus a matter of state law and California coastal permitting, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the matter. 

The Surfrider Foundation has been graciously and proficiently represented by Anna-Rose Mathieson and Bill Hancock at California Appellate Law Group, Mark Massara, and Eric Buescher and Joe Cotchett from Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

“Today’s decision is a significant win for beach access rights across the nation,” said attorney Eric Buescher of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, representing the Surfrider Foundation. “By declining to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the owner’s attempt to purchase a public resource. We’re grateful the California Coastal Act’s promise that the beach cannot be bought, but instead belongs to the public, has survived a billionaire’s whims which risked gutting the statute’s protections.” 

The Surfrider Foundation has worked diligently to open Martins Beach since 2010, when the gates were locked permanently to keep the public out. Surfrider has attempted to engage Vinod Khosla to work out a reasonable access plan but has been met with litigious responses and accusations of blackmail. To open access to Martins Beach, Surfrider has worked on several fronts in addition to this litigation, including legislative and administrative agency advocacy, and supporting the defense of the Martin’s Beach 5. The Surfrider Foundation will continue to encourage the State Lands Commission to act upon the legislature’s directive to acquire Martins Beach Road through purchase or eminent domain. We will also continue to encourage the Coastal Commission to fully enforce the Coastal Act protections required at Martins Beach. Ultimately, after this litigation, the Coastal Commission will likely have a greater role in permanently guaranteeing beach access at Martin's Beach.

Today, however, we celebrate a hard-fought win based on California law that, once again, has proven to protect our treasured natural resources, and access to them, for every man, woman and child who heads to the beach in the “pursuit of happiness” afforded by our nation’s laws and to “maximize public recreational opportunities in the coastal zone” as afforded by our state Coastal Act.

“This is the most significant litigation access victory in the past decade at the Surfrider Foundation. We have secured public access at this treasured beach and solidified the strong beach access guarantees in California law,” states Angela T. Howe, Esq., Surfrider Foundation Legal Director. “The Surfrider Foundation is changing the face of coastal environmental law, and today it is markedly for the better.”

To become a member or support Surfrider's work to protect the ocean, wave and beaches, visit Surfrider.org/support-surfrider