Half Moon Bay Beach Battle: California Lawmaker Wants to Reopen Martin's Beach

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A Peninsula lawmaker is taking on a Silicon Valley billionaire. It’s a battle about public access to a secluded Half Moon Bay beach. Joe Rosato Jr. reports. (Published Monday, Feb 10, 2014)

    The only thing standing between Kyle Foley and his favorite Half Moon Bay surfing beach was a winding, hastily paved road. He stood at the road’s entrance off Highway 1, eyeing the small, thin gate bearing signs announcing "Private Road" and "Trespassers Stay Out."

    A year ago, Foley and four friends ignored those signs, skipped around the gate and walked Martin’s Road to the beach, where they spent the afternoon surfing. Soon, San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies showed-up and arrested the men for trespassing.

    “We got charged with trespassing, but they dropped the charges,” said Foley, who has since defied the gate numerous times to surf the beach.

    Martin’s Beach, just South of Half Moon Bay was once a destination for families, surfers and beach lovers. The Denney family which owned the land charged $5 for parking, operating a snack bar on the site. But the land was sold in 2008 to Sun Microsystems Inc. co-founder Vinod Khosla, a billionaire venture-capitalist who erected a gate, barring public access to the public beach - which was now only accessible by water.

    “I think it’s about my children’s want to experience this beach,” said Foley of his fight to see it reopened. “Or the next generation.”

    In November, advocates seeking to restore public access to the beach lost their legal challenge to reopen the road. Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled California's beach access laws didn’t apply to Martin's Beach, because it's original ownership was pre-dated by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe, which sought to uphold the property rights of Mexican citizens following the Mexican War.

    But in the latest salvo in the ongoing battle, Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo on Monday introduced legislation that would require the State Lands Commission to negotiate with the land owner to reopen public access to the beach. Hill said if no deal was in place by January 2016, the state could seek to seize the road by eminent domain.

    “It’s not up to one individual, or one company or one corporation or one limited partnership to be able to close a road and prevent the public from accessing a public beach,” Hill said.

    There are currently 15 homes at the site that are leased for another nine years, Hill said, adding that Khosla had indicated his interest in building six large new homes after the current residents are moved out.

    "That would turn it into a private beach,'' Hill said.

    If Hill's bill passes and is signed by the governor, it would take effect. Jan. 1, 2015.

    A call to land owner Khosla’s attorney was not returned. But Martin’s Beach resident Greta Staff Waterman said she didn't believe the area could handle a large public influx because the sea wall was eroding, and there was no place for cars to park.

    “My big question is who is going to pay for the maintenance and the stability of the road,” Waterman said. “It is private property, there are private rights.”

    Aside from Hill’s attempts to open the road, the grassroots Surfrider’s Foundation filed its own lawsuit again Khosla based on the California Coastal Act. The case is scheduled to go to court in May.

    Foley said the beach has a long history of public use; families had dumped loved one’s ashes there, weddings took place on the beach along with countless picnics.

    “It’s kind of a magical spot,” Foley said. “This is a community asset that has now been closed.”

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.