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This Land is Our Land: California State Legislature proposes Bill to Open Martin's Beach

By Legal Extern Caiti Pomerance and Angela Howe

Surfers and fishermen have enjoyed the sandy shoreline at Martin’s Beach for over a century, but in 2008, billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla abruptly stole the public’s right to access all 200 acres of it. When Khosla purchased the land abutting Martin’s Beach for $33.75 million, he gated and posted restrictive signage on the property forbidding entry to the only way to the beach.

The California State Legislature has recently responded. On February 10, 2014, State Senator Jerry Hill is poised to introduce legislation seeking to permanently open access to Martin’s Beach for the public. The bill will require the State Lands Commission in the Natural Resources Agency to consult and negotiate with Khosla about acquiring a portion of Kholsa’s property for public access to Martin’s Beach. If the Commission and Khosla fail to reach an agreement by January 1, 2016, the bill requires the Commission to attain Khosla’s property by eminent domain.

Eminent domain is a power held by the federal and state governments to acquire private property when the acquisition is in the public interest. The government may acquire all rights to all or part of private property, or the government may acquire an easement or right-of-way on all or part of the property. An easement or right-of-way permits the private owner to continue to freely use the property so long as it does not interfere with the easement or right-of-way’s purpose. When the government acquires private property rights through its power of eminent domain, it must provide the property owner with fair compensation. In other words, the California State Legislature holds the power to purchase an interest in Kholsa’s land (e.g. Martin's Beach Road which leads to the beach) since the acquisition of the land is in the public interest.

Because cliffs blocking lateral beach access surround Martin’s Beach and the public had accessed Martin’s Beach for nearly a hundred years, this is a unique situation involving the need for beach access. The bill must go through committee hearings in the Senate and the Assembly, and pass the Governor's desk, before it can legally secure access to Martin’s Beach.  Surfrider will continue to monitor and advocate for this bill as it makes its way through the state legislature.