Surfers Trump Billionaire in Court for Beach Rights

A California court ruled in favor of public access to public beaches on September 24 in a case that's been six years in the making. In 2008, Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla purchased 53 acres on the Northern California coast. Khosla's $33 million purchase did not, however, include the publicly held Martins Beach which it surrounded.

After the purchase, Khosla's property managers often opened the gate barring the one beach access road — the only access to the Martins Beach — that ran across the property. But in 2010 the gate was closed permanently, cutting the public off from Martins. Last October, five surfers jumped the fence and walked down to the beach in protest, ignoring warning of trespassing by security guards. The group, called "Marin's 5" (see video above) was arrested, but not charged.

A larger court case followed between the activist Surfrider Foundation and Khosla. The venture capitalist, who doesn't have a home on the land, saw the fight as a stand for private property rights, but the court recognized California law that would require Khosla to get a coastal Commission development permit to close the gate. These permits, however, are often only granted after establishing a public right of way. The court decision offers broader implications for all 840 miles of California's coast that, at least for now, favor the public over private landowners cutting off access.

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