(Ads background on Lucas)
By Sarah McBride
SAN MATEO, Calif. May 12 Vinod Khosla,
co-founder of Sun Microsystems and now a prominent venture
capitalist, on Monday testified about his cutting access to a
popular beach in a court case that calls into question a
California tradition of open access to the state's famed
The lawsuit makes Khosla the latest in a line of Californian
billionaires to clash with locals over their properties. Their
dispute stems from Khosla's closure of an access road to a
northern California property known as Martin's Beach, which is
about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of San Jose.
Khosla, known for his investments in clean technology,
testified before Judge Barbara Mallach in San Mateo County Court
on Monday that he could not recall whether he knew public access
to the beach must be preserved at the time he bought it.
"I had no particular plans for the property," Khosla said,
responding to questions from Joe Cotchett, a lawyer for the
Surfrider Foundation. The coastal-protection group brought suit
last year against Khosla, arguing that closing the approach to
the beach amounted to a violation of the California's Coastal
Act, a state law that governs issues such as shoreline access.
"The California Coastal Act is very clear," said Cotchett
before Monday's proceedings got under way. "One individual
cannot come along and buy it and say, 'The beach is now
In California, unlike in many 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 properties.
Many disputes have arisen over the years, often involving
wealthy beachfront homeowners. In the case of Martin's Beach,
the previous owner had allowed locals to access the beach for a
fee. But Khosla, who owns the land via limited liability
corporations, closed off the access road and hired guards to
keep people out, infuriating locals.
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 that Martin's Beach LLC failed to
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.
Dubbed "Billionaire's Beach," Carbon has been home to titans
such as Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison and movie and
television stars John Travolta, Courtney Cox and David Arquette.
The tiff also evokes some other neighborly disputes in
recent years involving wealthy technology executives including
late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and 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 sleeker. He twice won demolition
permits that were contested by preservationists; the wrecking
ball finally came down in 2011, months before his death. The
property is now vacant.
That same year, Ellison settled a case he had filed against
his neighbors over trees he said blocked views of the bay from
his house in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood.
In 2012, special-effects pioneer George 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.
Khosla Ventures has backed companies ranging from Jawbone,
maker of the "UP" health wristband, and payments companies
Stripe and Square.
(Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Stephen Coates)