Will Lt. Governor Newsom Show Backbone to Open Up Beach to Public?

Protesters in Sacramento Tuesday included Senator Jerry Hill (far right) and Pete McCloskey (third from right)

On the surface it seems like a local and parochial issue – billionaire venture capitalist and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla has been blocking access to the only road to Martins Beach, a crescent-shaped cove near Half Moon Bay, since 2010.

But, scratch the surface and you see political intrigue.  California beaches are public assets and, on Tuesday, the hearing was before the California State Lands Commission to determine whether they will move forward with plans to claim the three-foot wide access road which Mr. Khosla wants to sell for $30 million.

Mr. Khosla paid $32.5 million for an 89-acre spread in 2008.  As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, “The idea that he could command $30 million for the 6.39-acre road is absurd.”

But that’s where Mr. Khosla fits into this picture – he is a big democratic donor.   And one of his big benefactors is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, considered the front-runner for Governor in 2018, who just happens to be the highest-ranking elected official on the three-member commission.

The commission is chaired by state Controller Betty Yee and the third member is state Finance Director Michael Cohen.

Former Congressman Pete McCloskey
Former Congressman Pete McCloskey

As staff noted during the hearing on Tuesday morning, Senator Jerry Hill’s bill gave the State Lands Commission one year to negotiate an agreement with Mr. Khosla, but, while they went past that year, “those negotiations have failed.”  The staff said, “We were unable to reach agreement with Martin’s Beach representatives and in fact in unequivocal terms they said they were unwilling to sell an access easement to the state.”

Gavin Newsom said, “I want to assure the folks out here, this has been an ongoing effort for years now starting in December 2014, when we had those initial conversations.”  He said, “This property has an attached public trust that requires the kind of resolve and the kind of determination that this commission has been noted for.”

He said, “We now have to call the question because we’ve been sued.  We’ve been sued personally…  I don’t imagine that was to make people feel better.”

Senator Hill addresses the Commission
Senator Hill addresses the Commission

Senator Jerry Hill and Former Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, a resident of Yolo County, were among those leading the protest against the attempt to keep the beach inaccessible to the public.

Senator Hill said, “What makes California so great and what makes this system so unique, is that we consistently defend the public’s rights.”  He said that, on Monday, the legislature” took a very strong position and made a clear statement against a billionaire in Washington that we will protect the interests and the rights of our residents related to beach access for all residents.”

Senator Hill said he’s hopeful the legislation will appropriate some money for this effort to purchase the easement.

He said, “California is really watching… the precedent that could be set with this.  They want to make sure their rights are protected and the precedent is set for future generations.”

Pete McCloskey, who has, in addition to being a congressman, been a lawyer practicing law for 63 years, asked the Commission to pass a motion “to direct and authorize your staff to condemn the right of way.”

“This is an historic moment,” he said.  “This will be the first time in 78 years that this commission would have exercised the right of condemnation.”

He said, “Your vote today is going to be heard around the world.”

Former Congressman McCloskey
Former Congressman McCloskey

Prior to the hearing, both Gavin Newsom and Betty Yee indicated they were in support of the easement.

A letter from Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog noted, “Vinod Khosla has played hard ball with the commission in refusing to deal in good faith on public access to Martins Beach. He has demanded an outrageous price for property that should be the public’s at no cost. It’s time to initiate eminent domain proceedings. Anything less will be an abdication of your responsibility to the public that deserves access to the beach.”

“Particularly at this time in American history, the California Lands Commission should not pander to a billionaire Democratic donor who has leveraged his wealth and political connections to privatize public property,” Mr. Court added.

However, once they emerged from closed session, the Lt. Governor was guarded at best.

“We’re entering the next phase here, and we are leaning in,” he said.  “And we are not happy about this impasse, and we are resolved to doing something about it.”

“We are now moving in that direction in earnest,” said Mr. Newsom.  He added, “We are resolved to provide public access to this public resource.”


Meanwhile, Betty Yee said they are learning more about the required elements.  She said there are lots of ways to get where we need to go.

The state has offered $360,000 for the easement, but Mr. Khosla is demanding $30 million.  The Lands Commission decided on Tuesday to investigate the use of eminent domain.

While some are skeptical about the commitment of the Commission, Senator Hill cheered the decision.

“When you look at the estimated cost of $360,000, even if you tripled that and made it a million or two, the county of San Mateo has said it’s willing to contribute and many land trusts are willing to help,” said Senator Hill.

But some fear this an invitation for more delay.  Gavin Newsom called for a strategy to consider eminent domain, but did not rule out a negotiated settlement.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > Mr. Khosla paid $32.5 million for an 89-acre spread in 2008.  As the San Francisco Chronicle

    > put it, “The idea that he could command $30 million for the 6.39-acre road is absurd.”

    Just like in Davis where the city will pay above market value for a small “affordable housing” site (expecting that a large chunk of the excess profits will kicked back as “perfectly legal campaign contributions)  Newsom (or PACs supporting him that can hide the source of the money) will probably get a large chunk of the $30 million back in campaign cash.  I worked with both Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown in the 90’s and since Gavin learned at the knee of the “master” Willie I have no doubt that any campaign he runs will ever be short of cash.  Not to pick on just left of center politicians in Davis and the Bay Area this “buy parkland, affordable housing sites or river access from your friends at crazy prices” game is just as popular in the red (voted for Trump) rural parts of the state…

  2. Tia Will

    I want to be the first to speak out on this issue. My feeling is that this is a great illustration of how greed knows no political boundaries. Today it is a Democratic billionaire trying to extort money for what should have been free public access to a public natural resource from the beginning.

    [moderator] edited
    These kinds of power plays by the wealthy for the sole purpose of increasing their wealth and influence are equally as indefensible regardless of whether or not they are on my “side” of the political spectrum and I truly hope that we will not allow this to stand here in California.

      1. Tia Will


        This has nothing at all to do with the election. I would have used this action of Mr. Trump as my counterbalancing example even if he had not been elected.
        A common theme of you and Frankly is that those of us on the left blindly support all actions of Democrats. I was using this as a clear example of which this is not the case. There is clear equality of action here, and it is unacceptable regardless of its source. “Graciousness” has nothing at all to do with this.”

        Out of curiosity, where do you stand on the actual issue put forth in this article ?

        1. Frankly

          Bravo.  One example of where Tia criticizes Democrats.

          Frankly (because I am), there are so many opportunities to criticize Democrats for this type of thing (pay-for-play), I don’t know what took you so long.

          I am for making the beach accessible.

    1. Alan Miller

      >Obama was off limits but Trump is now fair game as they say.

      Quite a good point, BP.  And good call DG.  SofD managed to make the point without dragging partisan politics in.

      1. Tia Will

        Alan ,Frankly, and BP

        Obama was off limits but Trump is now fair game as they say.”

        Quite a good point, BP.

        Bravo.  One example of where Tia criticizes Democrats.”

        I think that perhaps all three of you have been reading with your eyes closed. I have been quite critical of policies of President Obama that I did not like with some examples being the ACA ( I am sure you all know I favored single party payer), deportation policy, energy policy ( I favored a more aggressive alternative source policy), and the use of drones. With regard to HRC, I have stated multiple times that I believe she is too hawkish, and too timid with regard to free college and health care policy.

        [moderator] Hey, all, could we just stop with all this, please?

    2. Sam

      You can take any story and post some needless shot at a national political figure. edited

      [moderator] All presidential politics is off limits in this discussion.

      1. Alan Miller

        >You can take any story and post some needless shot at a national political figure.

        The most glaring version of this I’d seen is where Debra DeAngelo, who seems to be having a meltdown over Trump’s election, started a long article on the new owner’s of The Palms Playhouse with a paragraph about what rough times we are living in with Trump being elected President.  I commented that she is good writer and she should know better when it is time to leave an emotional non-sequitur about partisan politics out of an article.  The Enterprise removed my comment.

        1. quielo


          “Debra DeAngelo” I don’t mind her political leanings but her writing is abysmal. Last I saw she was flogging a book. Maybe someone will gift you with it.

        2. Alan Miller

          I think she’s a good writer and I couldn’t give an F about her political leanings.  I am referring only to the insufferable meltdown when Trump was elected, which itself was fine in editorials though I stopped reading after a bit — but inserting it into a review of the New Palms — WAY not good.

        3. Marina Kalugin

          truly..  love Deborah De Angelo…she is a real person…. unlike many sockpuppets here..she lost me though on her support of the OTHER Cecilia…ya no Aguilar-Curry….there is a reason why PGE and Chevron spent millions on her….the CAC I mean…

          oh but I missed her meltdown….I am way behind on the DE again…… but even the RH and the Napo all melted down also …..and so many others at the UcD and the other UCs

          really folks……get a grip…. many voted for BO and got more of the same…..as the guy before him……

          and as far as any backbones…..follow the money……. and check the donor lists 🙂

    3. Frankly

      Kind of like those wealthy doctors living in downtown Davis blocking access to developers for building more rental housing.

      So is housing a right or a privilege?

      Maybe we need a national single-payer abode program where you get to keep your own house.

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    Of course the public should have access to the beach.

    I have zero confidence that Gavin Newsom will act honestly on anything, and if he acts in the interest of the public, it will solely be spuriously correlated with his own interest.

  4. Alan Miller

    This issue is dear to my heart.  Martin’s Beach is where my Dad took the family back in the 60’s and 70’s.  He liked it because it was almost the only private beach so it required a small fee at the gate that kept the masses out.  Also, my dad switched parties (as he did several times) to vote for Pete McCloskey, whom he always hailed as one of the most decent politicians of that era — good to see Pete still fighting the good fight, and surprised to learn he hails in Yolo County these days.  This entire affair is an outrage, transparent greed at its worst.

    1. Barack Palin

      I grew up fishing off the pier and rocks at Half Moon Bay.

      Flounder and Butterlip perch and then hot chocolate at the pier diner.

      I agree this beach should be open to all.  This guy is rich, he should donate the land.


      1. quielo

        My understanding is that the law permits one party to force an easement across someone else’s land if there is not practical access. For example if a private company owned the beach and wanted to extract sand for making cement they could force an easement for the trucks to haul away the beach. I believe these are called “easement by necessity” and would not need to show a historical use of the right-of-way. Perhaps someone with more knowledge can comment.

        1. hpierce

          You are correct in theory… applies to “land-locked parcels”… doesn’t apply here, as the beach appears to be somewhat accessible (but maybe not conveniently so) by land (google Martins Beach, CA), and clearly is accessible by boat/swimming…

          It is rare that the ‘easement of necessity’ tests meet judicial tests, but it has happened… usually for parcels created prior to, or in violation of the subdivision map act provisions of the government code.

      2. hpierce

        Ah… “what he should do”… waiving his 5th amendment rights… because he is rich… very “liberal” of you…

        By the same token, as you are relatively rich, you should donate a portion of your backyard for a mini-house for someone, and give them access to it… c’mon, set an example!

    1. hpierce

      Yes, evidence can be provided for a ‘prescriptive’ easement, but such evidence can be rebutted if there is similar evidence that it was done by “permission”… including if access was provided by ‘payment’.

      Best thing to rely on is section 66478.11 of the government code… triggered if the property is subdivided in the future… or, if there was a past violation…

    2. South of Davis

      Don wrote:

      > If you actually have a personal history with this beach

      > access, there is a questionnaire here that you can fill out

      In the early 70’s I remember my Dad telling us kids that Martins Beach charged to get in because it was a “nude” beach.

      When Sam Trans service to the coast started a few years later we would take the bus down El Camino and transfer to the 90H that would take us over the hill to the Alpha Beta parking lot and walk to Dunes Beach with our Boogie Boards.

      By the late 70’s when friends could drive we would often drive south of HMB to Martins Beach to surf since it had a more mello vibe than Dunes Beach, Venice Beach or the Breakwater (where non locals would get beat up for even trying to paddle out).

      In the late 70’s and early 80’s I think they just charged to drive down the road on weekends since I never remember paying anyone to drive down and surf after school (and unlike at Baker Beach in SF) I never saw any naked people at Martins Beach.

      1. Barack Palin

        But yet you post another off topic presidential politics post at 2:15pm

        [moderator] Maybe you could actually post something that is on topic, instead of constantly talking about what other people are doing.

      2. hpierce

        Interesting… a few miles south is San Gregorio beach… part within a state park, the other part on private lands (’60’s early 70’s)… the private part [pun unintended… occurred to me after posting] was “clothing optional” (nude beach)… a young man who lived across the street, who had some “developmental challenges” drove there once, and some jerks stole his clothes… PD got involved… fortunately, in those days, he was considered the victim of a prank, and not labelled as a “registered sex offender”…

        Believe Martins Beach access issues were reported in the Bee and SF papers a couple of years ago… I think there is more to this story than has been reported… particularly here… may well have to do with the location of the access being sought, width, maintenance and liability issues…

    1. hpierce

      The beach by definition of law is public… access to it is a time/place/manner thing, and a property owner, absent seeking an entitlement for development of the abutting property, is entitled to due process, which includes negotiation for acquisition, or failing that, adjudicated eminent domain… the latter would likely be quicker and cheaper… but the Coastal Commission has been very weird in the past, and this does smell more like “let’s make a deal” than good public policy…

  5. Marina Kalugin

    really?   and guess what… tell that to the many folks who live on the beaches where it is impossible to get to….without a helicopter or a many thousands stairs of steps….and if ya are sick forget it …

    Access ?   wtf can anyone get away with “closing access”…..wtf does that even mean?

    In MX even the resorts are REQUIRED to allow paths for the riffraff to traverse THEIR property…to get to the beach..

    [moderator] edited, off topic

      1. hpierce

        Yeah, the “jew” thing was one of the ‘bottoms’ distasteful to look at… like some bottoms at a nudist facility… (no experience, just imagination)

        Yet, she posts under her real name…

        Do not envy you your moderator role which you volunteered to do, and do well… I couldn’t do it, for sure… thank you for your efforts, Don…

  6. Marina Kalugin

    when one almost dies many a time in a short few years…. things that the pc and less intelligent crowd on here think is shocking…well get a clue and get a f grip and so on..

    none of this is worth a sack of beans…trust me on that …..the only sure thing in this US of A

    is death and taxes….if ya don’t follow the money or get a clue….you will never learn..

    I go on here when I am on hold or it is after hours and enough real work is done.    and heck you guys are soooooo easy to stir up…..the buttons are so obvious… but most never learn either….

    hasta la vista   🙂

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