December 06 2016
Today, the California State Lands Commission voted to direct its staff to report back about next steps associated with initiating an eminent domain proceeding to facilitate public access to Martin’s Beach. The Commission met in closed session following a public hearing and numerous public comments supporting public access to Martin’s Beach, including comments made by former U.S. Congressman Pete McCloskey and State Senator Jerry Hill. The Commission’s decision to study next steps in using eminent domain are indicative of support by the Commissioners to uphold the public’s right to access lands held in the public trust.
This directive comes after nearly two years of Commission staff negotiations with Mr. Khosla and his representatives. Negotiations spurred by Senate Bill 968, which was introduced by State Senator Jerry Hill in February 2014, and directed the State Lands Commission to negotiate a right of way or easement to facilitate public access to Martin’s Beach. It also authorized the Commission to acquire the land using other mechanisms, such as eminent domain, if access could not be concluded by the end of 2015. Commission staff reported that negotiations had reached an impasse and proposed that the Commission consider the potential use of eminent domain.
To help resolve one of the hurdles of pursuing eminent domain, Senator Hill introduced Senate Bill 42 on Monday to appropriate money from the general fund to the California State Lands Commission for staff resources and acquisition costs that would enable the commission to move ahead if it decides to acquire public access to Martins Beach through eminent domain.
“I’m pleased that the Commission moved one step closer towards eminent domain today and showed their commitment to preserving public access at Martins Beach,” said State Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
While the multi-year long battle to restore public access continues, the Surfrider Foundation is heartened by this directive from Commissioners and will continue its efforts to restore access to Martin’s Beach.
“Although we were hoping for a more definitive outcome by the California State Lands Commission today, it seems clear that the Commission is moving in earnest to use the tools at its disposal to restore public access to Martin’s Beach so that it can once again be enjoyed by the beachgoing public,” says Surfrider Foundation’s Legal Director Angela Howe. “The Surfrider Foundation has worked at the local grassroots level on advocacy to local and state agencies, through legislation, and in the courts through litigation to address this issue, and we will continue our efforts on all fronts until the public’s right to visit Martin’s Beach is permanently guaranteed.”
The Surfrider Foundation lawsuit against Martins Beach I and II, LLCs is still in progress. The suit, filed in March 2013, alleges that the billionaire was in violation of the California Coastal Act when he failed to obtain a permit before locking a gate leading down to the beach and posting signs forbidding entry. In September 2014, the Surfrider Foundation and its legal team of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP and attorney Mark Massara prevailed when San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ruled against Khosla, stating he changed the nature of public access at the beach without obtaining the necessary permits from the California Coastal Commission. That case is currently on appeal, and a court hearing is expected in early 2017.
Find out more about Martin’s Beach here.