By Sarah McBride
SAN FRANCISCO, March 14 A prominent Silicon
Valley venture capitalist has stepped into the middle of a
long-standing controversy over a California tradition: open
access to the state's famed beaches.
In a lawsuit filed this week, the Surfrider Foundation, a
coastal protection group, alleges that the owner of a beachfront
property south of San Francisco has violated the law by closing
an access road that has long been used by local surfers and
fisherman to reach a spit of sand called Martin's Beach.
"It's the most beautiful beach in San Mateo County," said
Mark Massara, a lawyer for Surfrider. Massara says he surfs
often at the beach and believes the law provides for access to
While documents list the owner of the property as Martin's
Beach LLC, a person familiar with the matter says the owner is
Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and a prominent
venture capitalist known for investing in clean-energy
In California, unlike in most other states, all beaches are
open to the public under the constitution. But private
landowners are not always required to allow access to the
coastline across their property, and many disputes have arisen
over the years - often involving wealthy beachfront homeowners.
In the case of the Martin's Beach property, the previous
owner had long allowed locals to access the beach for a fee. But
the new owner, who bought the property in 2008 and soon after
installed gates on the access road and hired guards to keep
people out - infuriating locals, who staged a protest at the
property on Thursday.
Lawyers for Surfrider say California's Coastal Act calls for
permits around activities that change the use or intensity of
use at a beach - permits Martin's Beach LLC failed to acquire
before installing the gates.
Joan Gallo, a lawyer for Martin's Beach LLC, did not respond
to phone messages. A spokeswoman for Khosla did not respond to
requests for comment.
HEIRESSES, EXECUTIVES AND MOGULS
The dispute echoes record mogul David Geffen's long battle
to prevent use of a walkway near his Malibu home. In 1983,
Geffen agreed to allow a pathway to Carbon Beach when he sought
permits for a pool and other additions, but he later filed suit
to fight the access. In 2005, Geffen settled the suit and
allowed the public walkway.
More recently, heiress Lisette Ackerberg has been fighting
an easement on her Carbon Beach property, where she has built a
tennis court and a generator that block the easement. She is
appealing a 2011 order from a California Superior Court judge
that require her to clear the right of way.
The tiff also evokes some other neighborly disputes in
recent years involving wealthy technology executives including
late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Lotus founder Mitch
Kapor, Lucasfilm founder George Lucas and Oracle
founder Larry Ellison.
Jobs fought a bitter battle with neighbors in Woodside,
California, over a 1920s-era house he owned but wanted to tear
down and replace with something more sleek. He twice won
demolition permits that were contested by preservationists; the
wrecking ball finally came to the house in 2011, months before
his death. The property is now vacant.
Also that year, Ellison settled a case he had filed against
his neighbors over trees he said blocked the bay views from his
house in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Last year, special-effects pioneer Lucas, the creator of
"Star Wars," got so fed up with his development-fighting
neighbors in Marin County, California, that he scrapped plans to
expand his Skywalker Ranch and said he would instead sell it to
a developer to build low-income housing.
And this year, the California Supreme Court is reviewing a
case that pits software mogul Kapor against his neighbors in the
hills of Berkeley, California, where he hopes to build a
In the latest conflict, Martin's Beach LLC lawyer Joan Gallo
told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week that she
welcomed the case. "All we've wanted from the very beginning was
an opportunity to have a court decide the rights and obligations
of the parties."
Khosla made his name as a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and
later joined the blue-chip venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield
& Byers. He started Khosla Ventures in 2004, and the firm known
for investing in clean-technology companies such as renewable
energy company KiOR and renewable-products company
In 2011, Khosla committed half his fortune to charity as part
of the Giving Pledge, an initiative started by Microsoft
founder Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren
But he is somewhat of a maverick who has complained about
environmentalists. Last year at the Berkeley-Stanford Cleantech
Conference, he said clean technology has been hurt by
environmentalists more than any other group, because
environmentalists back idealized solutions that "don't make any
The lawsuit in Superior Court of California, San Mateo
County, is Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach 1, LLC, case