back to article Billionaire's Babylon beach ban battle barrels toward Supreme Court

Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is taking his legal battle to control access to a piece of California coastline to the US Supreme Court. Here's the quick backstory. There is a public surfing beach south of San Francisco called Martins beach that's quite popular. To get to this seaside spot, you have to walk or …

  1. JassMan Silver badge
    Trollface

    Good ole Oracle, eh

    Is being able to piss off large numbers of people a prerequisite to being in Oracle's upper management or is it something they have to train for?

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Good ole Oracle, eh

      Personally I would go for qualification rather than on the job training.

      Can't someone just make money by running something like a DUKW ferry service to the beach? Perhaps Microsoft could plaster SQL Server ads all over it and write it down as advertising expense.

      1. HereIAmJH

        Re: Good ole Oracle, eh

        Funding shouldn't be a problem. California will have $4m a year from the fines to operate a free shuttle to the beach. They should do it just to piss him off that he is paying to transport people to his 'private' beach.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good ole Oracle, eh

      I think somebody is being a bit quick on conclusions here.

      He was a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, which he left a quarter of a century before Oracle acquired them. All jerks aren't Oracle employees.

  2. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Miserable old git

    Over here compulsory purchase is very much a thing, and if you don't play ball a price can be imposed.

    This is one of the very few occasions I think we should export the idea.

    1. GBE

      Re: Miserable old git

      Over here compulsory purchase is very much a thing

      It's also very much thing in the US, where it's called "Eminent Domain," and invoking it has been considered in the case in question.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eminent_domain

    2. MeRp

      To be fair...

      Compulsory Purchase in English/Welsh law is the same idea as Eminent Domain (referenced int he article) in US Law.

      It still requires a process, and if the relevant governmental entity decides to squash it (as happened here), then it won't go forward.

      I think Oregon State did it right WRT this situation; they have a law that not only stipulates that all beaches are publicly owned or have public easments, but any adjacent private property must provide public access to said beaches. If California had a similar law, this case would be open and shut; he's preventing free public access.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: To be fair...

        As I recall, California has a similar law on the books, which was cited in the article (the Coastal Act). Thing is, Khosla is trying to challenge the law by using other acts or trying to trump it with Federal law. Eminent Domain is being tabled because the person who would invoke it (Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom) is running for Governor this year, and Khosla has enough resources to play Global Thermonuclear War with Newsom on the campaign trail should Newsom choose to "go nuclear". Khosla is willing to play the long game, Newsom doesn't have that option.

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: To be fair...

          Thanks for the update guys.

          It wasn't clear from the article that your lot could also impose a price.

        2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: To be fair...

          AFAIK, the coastal act makes the beach public property. Khosla isn't fighting that. He's saying that the use of his land to gain access to the beach opens him up to a host of liability issues. As well as maintenance issues. (E.g. someone trips and hurts themselves on the path to the beach, they can sue Khosla for $$$.

          He puts in a sidewalk, he has to spend $$ to maintain it and again, he has the liability. )

          He could sell the land on his own, but he was asking for $$$$$ when it should have been $$$. Eminent Domain would have taken care of this and would have solved it... but it was never done.

          Federal law does trump state law, however... even that wouldn't stop the city from using Eminent Domain, or forcing an easement. (Although Khosla is right about the liability issue and potential nuisance suits. )

          IMHO he should sell the strip, put up a 30 ft high privacy fence and then call it a day.

          1. Mark 65 Silver badge

            Re: To be fair...

            I was interested and so did some searching. It seems it is not so much a "strip" but a private road that weaves through the property down to some beachfront rentals and the beach itself. I don't think he can easily "sell the strip". See here [Daily Mail (urgh!)]. If you search you can also confirm that it is this long winding private access road that has been closed - photo of locked gate here. It would appear this access road splits the land, as well as occupying a reasonable chunk, which would mean that if it were sold as a public access he'd then have issues crossing his own land and lose a fair portion of it.

            Whilst he's being a dick on some fronts the nature of the access and the litigious US culture have not helped as fear of being sued is genuine.

            NB I read somewhere those properties are holiday rentals so I'm assuming they are on his land and perhaps leased else the owners would surely kick up a stink.

    3. Old Used Programmer

      Re: Miserable old git

      That's what "eminent domain" is. Problem is, Newsom chickened out. Read *all* of the article.

      1. Agamemnon

        Re: Miserable old git

        I threw Newsome out of a bar in The Marina once in SF, while he was Mayor, after his Scandal (didn't want to drink with the git, neither did fellow San Franciscans).

        Trust that Gavin won't do anything to compromise his election potential.

    4. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
      Boffin

      @Will Godrey Re: Miserable old git

      In the US there is a thing called Eminent Domain.

      The City / County / State could force the sale to the city enough land to put in a fence and a public walkway to the beach. The cost of the land would be roughly what has been his tax assessment per acre.

      He's already facing millions in fines and it would solve this issue once and for all.

      I don't know why they haven't attempted to force a constructive easement since the beach is "land locked" meaning that Khosla ?sp? owns all of the overland access to the beach which is public property, so he would have to grant the easement. He could put up a fence to limit their access and to keep pedestrians on the easement only.

      Either way, he's being a total prick about it and will lose i court.

  3. DeVino
    Facepalm

    Dicks with money not isolated to US

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/7712196/Jeremy-Clarkson-loses-footpath-battle.html

    1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

      Re: Dicks with money not isolated to US

      But who could expect anything else from clarkson?

  4. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Bulldozer

    Time for the CA government to use a bulldozer to remove the whole fence (no just the gate) and repeat any time that it is replaced.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Bulldozer

      That is a great idea except...

      This 'numbskull' would simply sue the people who :-

      - owned the bulldozer

      - drove the bulldozer

      - built any part of the bulldozer

      - transported the bulldozer to site

      - the city

      - the county

      - the state

      + anyone watching including the Police

      Into oblivion. He has more than enough money to bankrupt the lot of them and/or tie them up in legal cases that would give them all such a bad credit score that... well you can guess the rest.

      He simply does not care about anyone but himself. SOP for American Rich IMHO.

      He would be right at home with old wrinkly (Rupert M).

      Perhaps another billionaire could buy the road leading to his home and put a gate on it. :) :)

      Other than that [see icon]

      1. MarieAntOnNet

        Re: Bulldozer

        " He has more than enough money to bankrupt the lot of them and/or tie them up in legal cases ... "

        And in such manner the U.S. legal system grinds on and grinds down common sense, common decency and anything that smacks of actual, capital "J" Justice.

      2. kain preacher Silver badge

        Re: Bulldozer

        Qualified immunity shields public officials from damages for civil liability so long as they did not violate an individual's "clearly established" statutory or constitutional rights. The immunity is available to state or federal employees, including law enforcement officers, who are performing their jobs.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Bulldozer

          But note the word "qualified". Khosla could just challenge the qualification, especially since there's no court order as of yet.

        2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

          @kain preacher ... Re: Bulldozer

          No. Not exactly.

          In this case they couldn't sue the guy driving the bulldozer. Or the rank and file city workers.

          They could sue the company contracted to do the work.

          (Khosla would win.)

          They could sue the City government, and again Khosla would win and win big. The individual has immunity, the city doesn't. (And their are limits to the immunity)

          Immunity would not shield the city because Kholsa could argue that it was a malicious act and it was done to harass him and his family over this legal battle. It would be an abuse of power.

          In short it would be the worst thing the city could do.

          Having said that... if the fencing was on an easement granted to the city and they needed to do work, or the fence was put in without a permit... it would be different.

          1. kain preacher Silver badge

            Re: @kain preacher ... Bulldozer

            "They could sue the company contracted to do the work.

            (Khosla would win.)

            They could sue the City government, and again Khosla would win and win big. The individual has immunity, the city doesn't. "

            Nope you have permission.

            Let me give you an example of how you are wrong(but should not be)

            My father is a carpenter. he got hit by crane ball. he went to sue and the company said we are a gov contractor and have qualified immunity . The Jude agree and said he would have to sue the federal gov. Now to sue the go you need permission .

            No the company was not doing any thing neglect but following the cities orders. Another fine example is in Detroit. they city ordered a house to be condemned and demolished . They gave the contract the wrong house address and you guess what happened. They company were free and in the clear and the home owner had to sue the city.

      3. elDog Silver badge

        Re: Bulldozer

        So - for sake of an argument (or not):

        I'd be perfectly happy to purchase a bulldozer (I think I can secure the funds for a nice big one) and plow through this a-holes property. And turn around and make sure I did it properly. Perhaps even getting rid of a few protuberances such as unsightly guest houses.

        I could get sued to the end of days but it wouldn't net anyone except the a-holes lawyers anything. While I was still alive, my middle fingers would be very well exercised.

        Oh, I have 0 net worth. Everything is well hidden anywhere but here.

  5. elDog Silver badge

    Tell ICE (our immigration/border control nazis) that there's a furriner living there

    And I bet if interested people looked into his "citizenship" or residency permits they could find a way to ship him back to some shitehole country.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Tell ICE (our immigration/border control nazis) that there's a furriner living there

      That won't happen. He has too much money and influence.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tell ICE (our immigration/border control nazis) that there's a furriner living there

      > they could find a way to ship him back to some shitehole country

      The US already is a shitehole country.

  6. beep54

    Hows about fining him a million dollars a second. The man is scum.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Given how much is at risk now, he's probably willing to pay it just to keep his privacy. IOW, it's more important for him than the money at this point.

  7. alexminca

    I have an old Sun Sparc

    I guess I should be able to take it down to the property and dump it...

  8. alain williams Silver badge

    Access via the sea in a boat ?

    OK: not for everyone, but has anyone done that ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Access via the sea in a boat ?

      Yes. Folks can use the beach all they want if they come via the water (surf, swim, boat, submersible, etc), they just can't get to it if they try parking on the public street outside his home & walking to it via the previously open access trail.

      This rich bastard is intentionally blocking folks from getting to a public beach all because he would rather spend the money on 24/7 guard service than the occasional maintenance service such access would require. He claims that upkeep would be "financially prohibitive" even though the cost of the guards has already blown past any mere upkeep costs might have imposed.

      I tried to visit there once & he had guards (& a lock on the gate) to prevent anyone from going through his property. It pissed the crowd off enough that a few of them had gone to fetch bolt cutters. The guards said they were authorized to call the police to report the tresspass. I wasn't surprised that the crowd shouted back "go ahead!" & were ready to mob the guards anyway.

      I decided to leave before the blood flowed. I figured getting to the public beach wasn't worth the criminal record for the vigilante justice of the mob.

      Shame really, that fat fuck would get far more reward for helping the public rather than hindering them. The cost of a dedicated concrete path, flanked by tasteful wroght iron fencing, complete with light poles to illuminate & protect against crime, would be far less than what he's spent in legal fees to keep himself walled off.

      I don't think his legal team will be of much use should some "social terrorist" decide to do some SJW work on him/his home.

      And I doubt anyone other than another rich bastard would shed a single tear.

  9. Queeg

    There is this...

    "The cost to him since 2008 has been roughly $1m a year. If the Supreme Court refuses to hear his appeal and the Coastal Commission decides to impose its maximum fees, that would jump to more than $4m a year. But aged 63, he would still be in a position to use his vast wealth to block access to Martins beach for the rest of his life."

    California Penal Code 166 PC punishes contempt of court. "Contempt of court" essentially refers to any behavior that is disrespectful to the court process. Examples include (but are not limited to):

    being excessively loud or belligerent,

    refusing to be sworn in as a witness and/or refusing to comply with the judge's requests during any court proceeding, and

    willfully disobeying a court order.1

    It's the last example that tends to trigger the greatest penalties and the type of contempt upon which this article will focus.

    Penalties

    For the most part, contempt of court (including violations of court orders) is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. That said, there are situations that invite more serious penalties such as higher fines and up to one year in jail and/or a potential state prison sentence.

    For a Billionaire 6 Months behind bars would probably feel like 6 years.

    Oh by the way, DON'T DROP THE SOAP IN THE SHOWER.

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: There is this...

      BTW, the only billionaire I know of that ended up in a US jail was Madoff ... and that because he defrauded the powerful ....

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: There is this...

        "BTW, the only billionaire I know of that ended up in a US jail was Madoff ... and that because he defrauded the powerful"

        Actually it was because he madoff with all the money without even giving them a relational database to play with. There are right ways and wrong ways to extract lots of money from people.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: There is this...

      They can't use Contempt of Court YET because Khosla is currently appealing the decisions as is his right. Until the case is finalized (which could happen soon if the SCOTUS refuses to hear the case; it's their choice), there can be no definitive legal action because the action may have to be reversed.

  10. Hans 1 Silver badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    His appeal to the Land of the Free's highest court

    I'm not that cheap, this one will do:

    https://www.amazon.fr/Clavier-profil%C3%A9-Kinesis-Advantage-pour/dp/B000LVJ9W8/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1519432118&sr=8-3&keywords=qwerty+clavier

  11. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    What

    a cunt

  12. Wokstation

    Surprised...

    ...that someone hasn't set up a ferry service to the public beach already.

    Or have they?

    (Half Moon Bay has a landing strip according to Flight Unlimited 2. Did many touch and goes there)

    1. FuzzyTheBear
      Thumb Up

      Re: Surprised...

      That is an AWESOME idea actually :D

  13. TonyDJ

    No Court Needed

    I will build a fauxcean on the back 20 acres of your property surrounded by a Trump class privacy/defender wall for only $16,319,275,017.32. Mr.Koshla, Sun ONE Messenger me.

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who didn't want to pick a high-profile fight with a Silicon Valley billionaire over property rights when he himself is running for governor of California later this year."

    If public opinion is in favour of access I'd have thought this would have been an excellent fight to pick.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      California is a BIG state. The sentiment up in Northern California may not necessarily coincide with that of southern Cali. Plus crossing a man with deep pockets during ANY kind of campaign is ill advised as your adversary has the resources to dig up (or even manufacture) all sorts of dirt on you. And since none of it has to go directly to the campaign, there's no real way to control it even if campaign limits were in place (he'll just play Six Degrees of Separation).

  16. Maelstorm Bronze badge

    This is going to end well...

    ...for the public. Ultimately, the US Federal Government owns the beaches, but it's delegated to the states to manage them. In California, nobody can own a beach. I already know how this is going to play out. SCOTUS is going to either not hear the appeal or will find in favor of the state as the state has a keen interest to maintain public access to a natural resource under the Public Use Doctrine which goes all the way back to the Roman Empire. He will be forced to pull the gate down or go to jail for contempt of court.

    In the end, it doesn't matter how much money that you have. Nobody is above the law.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is going to end well...

      "Nobody is above the law."

      But being rich makes it easier to sidestep. When he is finally forced to unlock the gate he probably will dig a nice lake making the gate being unlocked superfluous.

      1. KSM-AZ

        Digging a lake . . .

        Nope. You'll need a permit for any kind of man-made lake. Along with an environmental impact statement. Sign-off from the Army Corps of Engimeers, . . . Etc, etc, etc. Wanna piss thru a billion? Try contruction pretty much anywhere in CA on anything involving altering natural landscape that involves water. Even a swimming pool can be a pain.

        1. kain preacher Silver badge

          Re: Digging a lake . . .

          He just might be that arrogant/stupid.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Digging a lake . . .

          "Sign-off from the Army Corps of Engimeers, "

          Errr....what? Really? The army get to decide if you can dig a lake on your land? Environmental impacts, planning permission etc. I understand, but the army?

          1. kain preacher Silver badge

            Re: Digging a lake . . .

            Army corp is a hybrid of military and civilian agency. As to why them Because they have been doing it since efore the US was founded.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_Corps_of_Engineers

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Digging a lake . . .

              "Army corp is a hybrid of military and civilian agency. As to why them Because they have been doing it since efore the US was founded."

              Thanks. Interesting that it was inspired by and first commanded by a "cheese eating surrender monkey" though :-)

  17. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Here is a man..

    ..who desperately needs to be forced to subsist on a job flipping burgers for a few years, or until it instills a sense of humility, if possible.

    I get that he wants a private beach. Who wouldn't? But there have to be plenty of places he could own a private beach without screwing over the local populace.

  18. kain preacher Silver badge

    I hope his lawyers has told him that if he loses California can take the money out of his account with a out a court order or they can place lien on the property. IF the state really gets pissy that can attach that lien to his property tax. Now if he does not pay that property tax they can take the land .

  19. EveryTime Silver badge

    His new lawyers are pitching the sanctity of private property. I guess they think that will help them both in court and with public opinion.

    But the typical person knows about easements. And if they think for just a minute, they realize that easements are vital for a modern society. Without easements there wouldn't be water or sewer systems, or an electric power grid, or telephone, or cable. Sidewalks are often an easement, with a requirement for maintenance at the owner's expense.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      The easement argument favors Khosla because the property owner is still legally responsible for the upkeep of an easement. This means liability gets attached which means an easement to a popular publicly-accessed location may require liability insurance to be attached lest he be sued up the wazoo for any "accidents" that occur in the easement.

      What would be preferred is an outright sale, but Khosla is demanding top dollar due to the demand. And eminent domain isn't being risked because Khosla can retaliate with an indirect smear campaign against the government (in particular Lt. Gov. Newsom, who's running for full governor this year). Screw the rules; he's got enough money to make following the rules a Pyrrhic victory.

  20. PhilipN Silver badge

    Private property ..... but

    Taking the point in isolation, I sympathise with anyone who does not want the great unwashed trampling his geraniums, and there could well be a security issue, but ... 90 acres? If he cannot block access with a padlock it suggests he cannot collect admission fees either. But how about an ice cream stand, surfer shop, bar ....? No he does not need the money** and come to think of it I do not suppose he has the obligation to maintain a footpath either. So how about cultivating impassable foliage or pet tigers?

    A little more imagination is called for - on both sides.

    ** I do not see him lounging on the beach either, since it is not his, but he needs to remember that the second half of Robinson Crusoe would have been boring without that footprint in the sand.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Private property ..... but

      I would think the laws favor California in this case. Impassable foliage can be cut and pet tigers (IF legal in California; many states restrict ownership of exotic animals) would have to be kept in enclosures which would be subject to permitting processes, etc.

  21. Maelstorm Bronze badge

    The problem with...

    ...this cunt is that he thinks he can get away with it. I'll bet you that after the election, there will be an imminent domain process initiation against him. After all, it is the taking of private land by the government for public use. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

    Just watch. Someone is going to get so pissed off about it that they will hook the gate to their truck and drag it down the street. It will probably even bend or break the mounting poles.

    1. EveryTime Silver badge

      Re: The problem with...

      ..."an imminent domain process".." It doesn't happen often, but it does happen."

      Eminent Domain happens frequently. Without it most roads and public infrastructure couldn't be built.

      Part of the process is the courts forcing a objective valuation and subsequent sale. Even when the contract doesn't go before a judge, it is the power of the court behind the sale. There are always a few people that wouldn't sell at any price, and others that try to get a absurdly high valuation.

      A just conclusion to this years-long abuse would be for the state to do what it does to the little people: stop negotiating, use the current assessment to buy a strip of land most convenient for access (e.g. immediately in front of the house) and build a road. And perhaps a parking lot (right on the patio). Then re-assess the rest of the property at the value the owner suggested during the negotiations.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: The problem with...

        Khosla can still challenge eminent domain on the grounds that it's an abuse of power. At he least, he can limit the extent of the sale to just the amount of land needed to make a right of way for the access road. He can also challenge the valuation on bias grounds to get a second opinion. Both happened near where I lived about 15 years ago and triggered reassessments.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    US Billionaire is arrogant cunt who is above the law

    News at 10.

    There is no justice in the US - you get what you pay for.

  23. Muscleguy Silver badge

    New Zealand way back at the start of things foresaw such problems and thus the Queen's Chain (it can be the King's but Victoria and Liz have reigned for so long . . . ) exists. A chain's length above the high tide mark on beaches and along the banks of all but the smallest creeks is Crown land. Farmers may not erect fences beyond their land or block the Queen's Chain though they are under no obligation to clear vegetation.

    So you will often see cars parked next to bridges over rivers as they provide public access to the Chain without crossing private land. Thus trout, salmon and eel fishers can access riverbanks and if they have paid for a fishing license in that locale they can fish for trout, rainbow trout and salmon (all introduced species), native eels have separate legislation. You don't need a license to fish for them but you cannot use a rod, a handline only or a trap. You may use bait for an eel but may not for salmonids, flies and lures only.

    The Chain also allows access to popular walking tracks and many tracks run along it.

    If you have a small enough boat you can thus access and camp above the high tide line of any beach not subject to a conservation restriction order such as on the Ark Islands where landing is prohibited.

    It is the only such measure I know of and is a great public boon. All beaches are thus public. Except in the biggest storms a chain's width is enough to put a small tent etc on. Various people have kayaked around NZ, camping on the Chain when civilisation is not convenient.

    1. Number6

      How many people know how long a chain is though? It's a bit like an acre, a unit often used but ask people how big it is and most won't know (my answer is 'one chain by one furlong'). Perhaps the good citizens of New Zealand are more clued up about old imperial units than others.

  24. FuzzyTheBear

    Tsunami

    I just wish his whole property is swept by a tsunami.

    The coast belongs to the sea and to boaters who need ground.

    It belongs to everyone.

    That the access to a beach be closed or restricted by a narcissistic selfish idiot is not acceptable ANYWHERE in the world.

  25. Kev99 Bronze badge

    The is a federal law that was enacted in the late 1800's that declared ALL navigable waterways belong to the federal government and therefore all were freely accessible by the general public.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      But it's not the beach that's at issue. It's the route TO the beach. And Khosla can counter, "Why not treat the beach like one of those cliffside beaches?" (which are PHYSICALLY impossible to reach by land because they're secluded by cliffs). Plus there are likely other beaches similarly sealed off by private property, meaning he can claim he's being singled out.

      1. John Watts

        >Plus there are likely other beaches similarly sealed off by private property, meaning he can claim he's being singled out.

        I think in this case it's that the previous owner of the land allowed access.

  26. Marshalltown

    Common law

    Ironically perhaps, the legal basis by which the public has right of way across that property extends far back into English history. The rule in California is that a private ownership of a route used publicly has to be maintained by denying public access to the route annually. I used to help my father-in-law close off a short road on land he owned connecting two other roads, erecting a barrier and running tape across the entrances.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Completely Unneccessary Needless Troublemaking

    That is all.

  28. Chemical Bob
    FAIL

    If the coastal act would "throw private property rights in California into disarray", you'd think it would already have happened as the act been around for 42 years.

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