Thursday, May 1, 2014

Coastal Act Suit Goes to Trial

Who to himself is law, no law doth need,
Offends no law, and is a king indeed
- excerpt, The Tragedy of Bussy D'Ambois

The California Coastal Act is a law that was put in place to regulate development in a manner which protects and conserves California's epic natural and scenic resources on the coast. The law addresses a broad swath of issues from protection of habitat, water quality, coastal dependent uses, and visual resources, to maximizing public access to beaches. Arguably, without this very important law on the books, California's remarkable coastline would have long ago succumbed to unbridled economic exploitation and mass privatization.

Indeed, the Coastal Act has been challenged by formidable opponents with deep pockets and weighty influence, who have sought to do these very things. One memorable tiff involved media mogul David Geffen and his Malibu home on Carbon Beach. Although Mr. Geffen had agreed to an access easement along his property as a condition of a development permit, he later sought to close off public access to the easement. In the end, Mr. Geffen lost the battle in court and opened the gate to the accessway.

The latest battle involves another mogul--this time of the tech sector--who has closed off and deterred access to Martin's Beach.  Vinod Khosla, under the guise of two holding companies, bought the land adjacent to Martin's Beach in 2008 and closed off access to the public soon after.  The billboard advertising access was painted over, beach closure signs erected, and a gate that once opened for the public was kept locked except to residents possessing keycards.

As offensive as these actions are, they are made all the worse with the realization that they were done with full knowledge that they were illegal.  The representative of the holding companies was made aware of the existing public access associated with the property prior to purchase of the property, and was also informed that closing or deterring access would be an activity that required a development permit from the County and Coastal Commission.  (We learned this through discovery on our lawsuit...see video) 

But, as powerful people are sometimes wont to do, the law was ignored and access was closed without benefit of a permit.  Doubtlessly he reckoned that the only way that he would have to answer to these actions and forced to address this closure was through an enforcement action or a lawsuit brought against him.

Mr. Khosla was approached early on by Surfrider Foundation in hopes that the closure could be discussed and an amicable resolution to restore access could be reached, but alas Mr. Khosla was not responsive to this approach.  Instead, he relied on his lawyers to respond, and the response more or less said that the court would need to decide.  So Surfrider took him to task and sued for violation of the Coastal Act.

We are now days away from trial of the suit, which will take place at the San Mateo County Superior Court, this coming week of May 5.  We firmly believe that the actions taken constitute development, which require a permit, and are hopeful that the court will agree. If so, the Coastal Commission will finally have the opportunity to properly consider and address the access closure. Of equal importance, a message to future potential violators will be sent: California's beaches are not to be closed to the public. [Even if you have lots of money.]

We encourage members of the public to come out to the trial and support our suit (- wear blue!).  Check back here on Monday for the trial schedule and room assignment.


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