Supreme Court rejects billionaire's 10-year plea to cut beach access

The battle, waged by Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla, could have rewrote coastal access laws nationwide

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A drawn-out beach battle has finally come to a close: on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will not hear tech billionaire’s Vinod Khosla’s appeal to overturn an earlier ruling giving the public access to a popular California beach running through his property.

A venture capitalist who rose to prominence during the 1980s, Khosla, the Sun Microsystems founder, has spent almost a decade fighting to close a path that allowed the public access to Martin’s Beach, a beloved surfing destination. In 2008, Khosla purchased a 53-acre hillside with 47 cottages in Northern California’s Halfmoon Bay and believed he had the right to cut off public access to it, according to the New York Times, which first reported the story.

The case, however, was less about Khosla’s craving for private beach time and more about the principle of property rights. Since 1976, the California Coastal Act states that public access to the coastline is an enshrined right.

“If I were to ever win in the Supreme Court, I’d be depressed about it,” Khosla told the Times in earlier articles about the case. “I support the Coastal Act; I don’t want to weaken it by winning. But property rights are even more important.”

That said, the act does not even require Khosla to open up the beach — he only had to apply for a permit to cut off path access to it with the California Coastal Commission. Khosla’s belief that he shouldn’t have to do that set off a lengthy legal battle and dubbed him the moniker of California’s “beach villain.” He has challenged the case in multiple courts and at one point even hired guards to stand on top of the hill and watch for beachgoers..

“The most conservative and divided Supreme Court in my lifetime confirmed that even a billionaire, who refuses to acknowledge that the law applies to him, and retains the most expensive attorneys he can find, cannot create a private beach,” attorney Joe Cotchett told a local publication.

Had Khosla’s case made it to the country’s highest court, it could have potentially changed the laws currently forbidding property owners from privatizing the coastline. But now that the Supreme Court has refused to hear the case, Khosla’s  lawyer confirmed that they will apply for the permit and, if not successful, restart the legal battle all over again.

Email Veronika Bondarenko