Capitol Alert

California moving to seize public beach closed off by tech billionaire

File - In this Feb. 10, 2014, file photo, Julie Graves, left, of Albany, Calif., and Chris Adams, second from left, of Berkeley, Calif., hold up signs in support of a beach access bill that Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill introduced near Martin's Beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif. California's Coastal Commission is asking the public to document its use of Martin's Beach after billionaire landowner Vinod Khosla closed the only access road to it.
File - In this Feb. 10, 2014, file photo, Julie Graves, left, of Albany, Calif., and Chris Adams, second from left, of Berkeley, Calif., hold up signs in support of a beach access bill that Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill introduced near Martin's Beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif. California's Coastal Commission is asking the public to document its use of Martin's Beach after billionaire landowner Vinod Khosla closed the only access road to it. AP file

California is taking steps to seize control of private land leading to a pristine stretch of secluded beach property south of Half Moon Bay, with the hope of restoring public access.

Martins Beach in San Mateo County was closed to the public after tech billionaire Vinod Khosla purchased nearly 90 acres of beachfront property in 2008. The venture capitalist locked the gated entry to the beach, posted “do not enter signs” and hired security guards to keep people out.

In lawsuits, he argues the beach is private property. But a bill from state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would allow the State Lands Commission to direct $1 million into a new fund set up solely for the Martins Beach land acquisition, and possibly use eminent domain to take control of 6.4 acres sought to guarantee public access.

At present, the commission cannot use public funds for eminent domain. Hill’s bill would change that, and allow public, private and nonprofit donations to be deposited into the new account.

The acreage includes a road that winds from Highway 1 down to Martins Beach, and part of the beach itself. The state said it’s worth $360,000, but Khosla wants $30 million for the easement, according to analysis from Hill’s office on Senate Bill 42. The commission in December directed its staff to research how to use eminent domain to secure the property.

“We are resolved to provide public access to this public resource,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, chairman of the commission, said at the time. “We are aggressively moving in that direction.”

Previously, the public had access to the beach for nearly a century. Khosla in September sued the State Lands Commission, the California Coastal Commission and San Mateo County. He argues that the government is harassing him and trying to force him to surrender his private property rights in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Other lawsuits against Khosla’s business holding company have been brought by the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, which is also trying to restore public access to the beach.

“It’s critical that we allow the State Lands Commission to carry out their important mission of safeguarding the public’s access rights to waterways and the coastline,” Hill said before the bill passed the Senate floor. It’s now in the Assembly. A Natural Resources committee hearing is set for 2:30 p.m. in room 447 of the Capitol.

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Kalra and other members of San Jose’s legislative delegation – Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose – requested relief assistance last month.

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Angela Hart: 916-326-5528, @ahartreports

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