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Battle Over Martins Beach Access Moves Closer Toward U.S. Supreme Court

(KPIX 5) -- A battle over access to a beach along the Peninsula headed closer to the U.S. Supreme Court today. The Surfrider Foundation laid out its case to keep Martins Beach, just south of Half Moon Bay, accessible by way of a road through private property.

The Supreme Court gave the foundation until today to respond to a petition the property's owner, Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla. The foundation filed paperwork with the high court arguing that Khosla bought the prime beachfront property with the full knowledge that the public had used the land to access the beach for nearly a century.

Since the beach is bordered by steep cliffs on either side, the only access is through Khosla's property. This is what this long legal battle is about: private property rights versus the public's right to access stretches of California's coast.

"Guaranteeing public access to this beach - why is it important - for the same reason access to Yosemite is important," said Surfrider Foundation spokesman Robert Caughlan. "It's a California treasure."

Khosla ran afoul of the California Coastal Commission and the Surfrider Foundation when he built a gate and cut off access to the property shortly after buying the property for $32.5 million in 2008.

Last August, a San Francisco appeals court ruled Khosla broke state law when he blocked public access. The state Supreme Court rejected Khosla's appeal in October

However, in November, a Superior Court judge ruled there was no evidence the previous owners intended to grant a public right of access to the beach despite signage directing people to Martins Beach Road.

In February of 2018, Khosla asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeals court ruling, claiming California courts incorrectly ruled owners of private beachfront property need to obtain a permit before blocking public access through the property.

"It's strictly a matter of principle," said Khosla in a rare on-camera interview last month with KPIX 5. Khosla said he believes the coastal commission is trampling on the rights of private property owners.

"We need a coastal commission that works with property owners to follow the law," said Khosla.

Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has also published a blog defending his position and criticizing what he called unfair media coverage.

If the Supreme Court takes the case, it could have far-reaching and long-lasting implications for beachgoers up and down the coast.

"He knew from the beginning that he was going to have to deal with the fact that this road has been open for 100 years," said Caughlan. "I think the court will politely decline his case."

The Coastal Commission, who are not a party to the possible Supreme Court case but would be affected by its outcome, said they would have no comment today. The court will likely decide later this summer if it will hear the case.

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