Precedent-Setting Decision Guarantees Coastal Access

Surfrider Foundation’s legal victory over access to a small “pocket beach” in Northern California guarantees public access to all state beaches as well as trails.

Beach access advocates are celebrating a major victory, one that sets significant precedent for the future of the California Coastal Act. When the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the Martins Beach case in late September, it reaffirmed the legitimacy of the 1974 law that gives the public access to the state’s beaches.

The five-year fight over the access to Martins Beach in Half Moon Bay, Northern California, pitted the Surfrider Foundation and other coastal access activists against a billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla.

Martins Beach is surrounded by high cliffs and has only one publicly accessible entry point, a road that crosses private property. The family who owned the property for decades maintained a parking area, restroom, and small shop, and charged a small fee for using the access.

Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, bought the 89-acre property south of Half Moon Bay for $32.5 million. Initially, he maintained the access, but eventually the road was gated and locked.

The Surfrider Foundation filed suit in 2013. In response, Khosla sued the Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission, and the County of San Mateo, and vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court when the California courts ruled in favor of the Coastal Act.

“With the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of review of the Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach I and II, LLC case, Surfrider celebrates today a momentous litigation victory that requires open beach access be provided at Martins Beach as it has been for generations,” wrote Angela Howe, the Surfrider Foundation’s Legal Director.

“This means the road to the beach must remain unlocked and open to the public until property owner billionaire, Vinod Khosla, applies for and obtains a permit to change access.”

Although this “pocket beach” is in Northern California, the Supreme Court’s decision impacts access throughout  the California coast, by reinforcing the state’s authority to regulate coastal access. In the Santa Monica Mountains, where the Coastal Zone extends far inland, the decision has the potential to impact trail access issues. In several instances in the local mountains, situations mirroring the Martins Beach closure have occurred when new property owners have closed off trail access, leading to litigation. Surfrider’s victory is expected to strengthen trail easement rights as well as beach access.

“This is the most significant litigation access victory in the past decade at the Surfrider Foundation. We have secured public access at this treasured beach and solidified strong beach access guarantees in California law,” Howe stated.


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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