Billionaire Wants California To Pay $30 Million For Access To Popular Beach

| by Nik Bonopartis
Vinod KhoslaVinod Khosla

A Bay-area billionaire wants $30 million from taxpayers to reopen public access to a local beach.

Vinod Khosla, who is worth more than $1.5 billion, according to Forbes, painted over a welcome sign and posted armed guards at a gate leading to Martin's Beach, a stretch of California coastline that was a popular destination for families and surfers.

Khosla bought two adjacent beachfront properties for $37.5 million in 2008. While Khosla does not own the beach itself -- and can't own it under California law -- the property purchase gave him ownership of the only road the public could use to access Martin's Beach, the LA Times reported.

California's beaches remain public through the state's Coastal Access Program, which is intended to prevent wealthy landowners from snatching up beachfront property and excluding the public.

Khosla's attorneys said the billionaire has every right to prohibit the public from using his road to access the beach, even if that means the beach effectively became off-limits to everyone besides Khosla and his guests.

When the Surfrider Foundation -- a nonprofit environmental group dedicated to protecting beaches -- filed a lawsuit, Khosla claimed he did not have anything to do with the closed road, and blamed his property managers and attorneys for the decision, according to the LA Times.

But that didn't solve the problem, and Martin's Beach was still closed off to the public for more than four years.

In summer 2015, Khosla said he would "allow" the public to use the public beach by opening up the gated access road during the summer months, to comply with a judge's order, the San Jose Mercury News reported. But Khosla charged visitors a $10 per car parking fee, and arbitrarily closed the gate on certain days.

A Mercury News story from July of 2015 noted there was no way for beach-goers to know in advance if they'd encounter an open road or a closed gate.

Now, Khosla says he's willing to sell the access road to the state government for $30 million. The former Sun Microsystems co-founder floated the purchase price in a Feb. 3 letter to Jennifer Lucchesi, executive director of the State Lands Commission.

Gary Redenbacher, an attorney representing Friends of Martins Beach, said Khosla's price tag was exorbitant, an opinion Lucchesi shared.

"We believe the fair market value is significantly less than that," Lucchesi told the Mercury News. "As of today, we have not seen any documentation or analysis supporting the $30 million value."

Sources: San Jose Mercury News (2), LA Times / Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

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