Indian-American billionaire sues San Mateo County Sheriff in legal spat over Martins Beach

indica News Bureau-

 

Vinod Khosla, the Silicon Valley billionaire and co-founder of Sun Microsystems who has been in the news for his long-running battle to restrict public access to Martins beach has now sued San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos for violating Khos;a’s right to equal protection under the law. Martins Beach is surrounded by steep cliffs on both sides, making a road through Khosla’s property the only way to access it.

According to a complaint filed in federal court states that Khosla filed the case because San Mateo County deputies won’t cite or remove people if they enter the private property Khosla owns surrounding the beach without paying a fee. Khosla’s suit contends those visitors are trespassers, and that the inaction of the Sheriff’s Office deprives him of his rights as a private property owner.

Khosla’s attorneys wrote in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Friday, “This case involves a concerted effort by state and local officials to single out, coerce, and harass one coastal property owner for refusing to cede its private property rights.” 

Khosla originally filed the complaint more than three years ago with a list of list of defendants in a lawsuit including San Mateo County and its Community Development Director, Steve Monowitz, are also named as defendants, along with leaders of the California Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission. Now Bolanos’ name has also been added to the list. 

It is one of several still-unresolved court cases that make up the now decade-long fight over Khosla’s attempts to keep the public off the beach south of Half Moon Bay.

The showdown over the scenic piece of coastline has pitted the venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems against surfers and other advocates for public access to California’s beaches, who have been joined in their cause by top state officials.

Khosla purchased 89 acres surrounding the beach in 2008. Two years later, he locked a gate across the road, hired guards and posted no trespassing signs to keep people out, igniting the long winding legal battle.

For years, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office has refused to ticket or arrest people who enter Khosla’s property to access the beach, citing the fact that the court cases are unresolved. Khosla’s attorneys argue that deprives him of his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law, among other violations of his constitutional rights alleged in the complaint.

The lawsuit also asks a judge to find unconstitutional a state law directing the State Lands Commission to acquire a public access route to Martins Beach through Khosla’s property. And it seeks an injunction to stop county and state officials from requiring Khosla to “maintain unfettered public access” to the beach.

The Sheriff’s Office could not be reached for comment on Khosla’s lawsuit Saturday. An attorney for Khosla declined to comment.

“This (is) one more example of a billionaire who uses his enormous wealth to force the people to accept his arrogant self-centered ideology and deprive them of their legal right to free access of all California beaches,” said Joe Cotchett, a Burlingame attorney who represented the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation in the legal battle that forced Khosla to keep the gate open. “It is outrageous that this man continues to misuse and abuse our legal system to sue not only state officials but the San (Mateo) Sheriff for enforcing the rights of the citizens of California to enjoy a day at the beach.”

State courts have repeatedly blocked Khosla’s attempts to keep the gate across his road closed without first getting a permit from the Coastal Commission; in 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up his case.

Khosla has fared better on another legal question — whether the road on his property has effectively become public under a legal doctrine known as implied dedication, because generations of the family that previously owned the land allowed the public to access the beach.

An appellate court sided with Khosla last November in a suit brought by the nonprofit group Friends of Martins Beach. The court agreed with a San Mateo County Superior Court judge who ruled that a public right to the road had not been established because the previous owner charged visitors a fee to access it.

Earlier this month, though, the state of California filed a separate lawsuit against Khosla over that same question. That suit includes an extensively researched collection of photographs, letters and other evidence the state says shows that generations of families accessed the beach without paying a fee going back 100 years. It could pose a bigger threat to Khosla’s cause than the one from Friends of Martins Beach, since it means he will face the full might of the state government rather than the legal resources of a single organization.

 

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