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“Surf or fight!”

Or sometimes, “fight TO surf….

No, this entry is not not about a Marlon Brando movie set in Vietnam. This entry is about the rich.

The rich are different. One characteristic that SEEMS to be shared by many of them is the belief that they are above the law, and not just the rich who block public beach access in Malibu.

Today, a group of local surfers known as the Surfrider Foundation filed a lawsuit that accuses the owners of Martin’s Beach on the San Mateo Coast of violating the public’s “historic rights to public beach access,” as well as the California Coastal Act. For a century, fisherman, tourists, sunbathers, and families have paid a small fee to access the 200-acre, crescent-shaped Martin’s Beach with its distinctive pyramidal rock. SFGate.com says:

They claim the landowner, Martin’s Beach LLC, painted over billboards advertising the beach to the public, erected locked gates in front of Martin’s Beach Road, hired armed guards to keep people out and did it all without permits in violation of the California Coastal Act.

(When guns are outlawed, only the private armies of the rich will have guns. ;-) Oh yeah, what was that again about being “above the law?”)

“The heart of our case is that the law under the Coastal Act requires you to get a permit if you do anything to change the use or change the intensity of use at a coastal area or beach,” said Mark Massara, the lawyer for Surfrider who is working with former congressman Pete McCloskey and the lawfirm, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, on the case. “What we’re dealing with at Martin’s is a century of public access only recently interrupted by these development activities.”

The lawsuit is the latest blow in a long running battle that is as complicated as it is turbulent. It all started in 2008 when the limited liability company paid $37.5 million for the 53-acre beach, which includes 45 leased cabins along the coastal cliffs, about six miles south of Half Moon Bay.

Although the money man behind the deal has not been revealed, the plaintiffs have said, and sources close to the deal have acknowledged, that he is a co-founder of one of MY old “Alma Maters,” Sun Microsystems, the 57-year-old venture capitalist and billionaire, Vinod Khosla. Khosla is gnerally well known as a backer of bold, ecology-friendly projects. According to SFGate.com, Khosla could not be reached for comment. :-)

I’ll bet.

For more than 100 years prior to the sale, Martin’s Beach had been owned by the Deeney family, which built the first cabin in 1918 and kept building through the 1950s. Many of the cabins that were built are under long-term leases that expire in 2021, according to the lawsuit. SFGate.com says:

Locals and county officials were outraged when the buyer placed a gate across the road with a sign that said “Beach Closed, Keepout.”

“The beach is public. There is no dispute about that. The access is what we are talking about,” said Joan Gallo, attorney for Martin’s Beach LLC, the defendant named in the suit. “That is a private road. People were allowed through in the past as paying guests. They had no rights. Under the constitution there is no right of public access.”

It isn’t the first fight over public access to a beach. Similar battles have raged at Sea Ranch in Sonoma County, Shelter Cove in Humboldt County, Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara County and in Malibu, in Southern California.

In 2008, a man sued after being kicked off the gated Stinson Beach enclave known as Seadrift two years earlier and won a judgment allowing him to sunbathe all he wanted.

The 1972 California Coastal Zone Conservation Initiative made the entire coast, including all beach property below the mean high tide line, public property. The law also prohibited homes or developments from blocking public access to beaches and created the California Coastal Commission to enforce these mandates.

The problem is that Martin’s Beach, Seadrift, Sea Ranch and several other gated beachside communities in California preceded the initiative. That meant pre-existing public restrictions that blocked the masses were still permitted.

San Mateo County and the California Coastal Commission are investigating alleged violations of the coastal zone at Martin’s Beach. Among the charges are that the owner did work on a sea wall without permits and built culverts.

“We are actively involved in the case and I would consider it a very important case for this region,” said Nancy Cave, the coastal commission’s supervisor of enforcement for Northern California. “There is no question that the public has recreated at this beach for many, many years and is upset that they can no longer do that. This is not a private beach. The question is whether people can get to the beach.”

Meanwhile, the owner refuses to budge despite the threat of fines, litigation and dozens of letters, including a demand for public access from United States Representative Anna Eshoo.

“We welcome the lawsuit,” Gallo said. “All we’ve wanted from the very beginning was an opportunity to have a court decide the rights and obligations of the parties.”

Once again we recall the humorous question and answer of why there are so many toxic waste dumps in New Jersey and so many lawyers in California….

“Jersey got first pick!” ;-)

-Bill at

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