Fight continues over access to Martin's Beach

March 14, 2013 6:42:05 PM PDT
A former Congressman is joining surfers in a legal fight to gain access to a private cove south of Half Moon Bay. It's called Martin's Beach, and a well-known Silicon Valley billionaire says it's his right to keep outsiders off the only access road now that he owns the land surrounding it.

For as long as anyone can remember the road to Martin's Beach has always been open to the public, until that billionaire bought it up and put up a gate. Surfers say the road is the only way to access the waves.

"This is the only possible access route to the beach," surfer Jonathan Bremer said. "Both ends of the beach are blocked by big rock headlands. It's really dangerous to get in."

Pete McCloskey, a former Republican Congressman turned Democrat, called the attempt to close the beach an outrage.

"The gate is illegal as hell, pardon me," McCloskey said. "You can't put a gate to a public access road to a beach in California. The people of California have had the right to go down here since god knows when. I mean, in 1947 I went down here."

So on Thursday morning McCloskey and a small group of surfers and coastal access activists walked down the closed road, past the security guards and the sheriff's deputies, to the spot the Congressman used to frequent when he was a college student at Stanford.

"We had a bunch of beer kegs right there," McCloskey said.

The former Congressman is joining a lawsuit filed against the owner of the property, demanding that he open the gates.

"It's also possible that since he's blocked it off for four years, each day the violation under the law could be $15,000 a day," McCloskey said. "So the court could sock him with a lot of money."

The property owner is reported to be a man with a lot of money -- billionaire Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. An attorney representing the property's holding company wrote in a statement to ABC7 that, "Under the U.S. and California Constitution, public access requires neither an easement or a condition based on nexus to a development application. Neither is the case here."

Mark Massera is one of the attorney's working with McCloskey and the Surfrider Foundation to restore public access.

"What you're looking at here is the former public restrooms and the snack bar restaurant facilities, this was the public parking area," Massera said.

The attorney says the former owners ran a family business here. Local resident Tim Dillon has the pictures to prove it.

"That's my mom and dad down here, you know, this was years ago," said Half Moon Bay resident Dillon. "I'd like to bring my grandkids down here and now I don't have a chance. You know there's a lot of beaches here, but this is a special beach

All of the houses you see belong to people who built on land that was leased from the previous owners. Most of them are vacation places. Homeowner Carleen Fulton says the residents are united in favor of locking the gate.

"There were too many people with kids running all over the place, dogs running all over the place, boom boxes going," said Martin's Beach resident Fulton. "We paid the big price to be here and if they want to be here they can buy something here."

Last October five surfers were arrested here for crossing that gate, but the judge threw that case out of court.

And on Thursday San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies watched the surfers enter the property but didn't cite or stop anyone.

"We're not stopping access to the property," Deputy Henry Sutter said. "You have every right to walk down there. It's in civil litigation. Until that's resolved, everybody has access."


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