Friday, January 30, 2015

State May use Eminent Domain To Allow The Public Access to a Beach in Northern California

A property in Northern California is the subject of a dispute over an easement for public beach access, which could possibly lead to eminent domain proceedings:

“The State Lands Commission may use powers never employed in its 77-year history, seizing private land for public use to end a battle between surfers and billionaire venture-capital investor Vinod Khosla, who has been locking a gate at his beach property along California’s Pacific Coast.

Beach-goers are seeking entry to a portion of the property known as Martins Beach, a destination for surfers, while the homeowner holds the position that the beach is on his property, which is privately owned, and he has no obligation to the locals who want to use it.

The property’s owner, Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, filed suit a few years ago to deny access to local surfers to 89 acres of coast which he claims is private property, and which includes Martins Beach. Mr. Khosla’s position is that no right of way is in place to allow the public use of the beach, and as the owner of the property he would be burdened with hiring employees to manage it. A gate that permits access to the beach was intermittently left open by the property owner when he purchased the real estate in 2008 until it was finally completely shut a few years later. In 2014 the court ruled in favor of beach-goers when it ordered the gate on Mr. Khosla's property to remain open.

The State of California has a duty to maintain access to the natural resources from which residents and visitors derive pleasure and enjoyment. On this basis, the state is in negotiations with Mr. Khosla to purchase an easement that would allow public use of his property to access the beach.

Eminent Domain may be used by the state to acquire the right of way if Mr. Khosla does not reach an agreement with state authorities. To prevent the acquisition of his property, or an interest in it, Mr. Khosla would have to argue that providing surfers beach access is not within the definition of eminent domain, which is to say the taking of private property for the greater public good.  At one time, the California Coastal Commision threatened Mr. Khosla with a fine of over $10,000 a day as long as the gate was locked and public beach access was denied.

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