California billionaire beachowner is accused of blocking public access to surfers

REDWOOD CITY, CA (KGO/CNN) – Should a billionaire landowner be able to block public access to a beach?

Martin’s Beach near San Francisco is the focus of a major legal challenge over public access.

A well-known venture capitalist and billionaire claims to know very little about why beach access was closed after he purchased property nearby.

Vinod Khosla arrived at the courthouse by himself after a superior court judge ordered him to appear. He’s one of Silicon Valley’s top venture capitalists and a co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

Khosla purchased 53 acres of prime oceanfront property near Half Moon Bay that includes Martin’s Beach, a popular surfing spot that has been accessible to the public for a century. At some point, a gate and lock blocked access. Opponents argue that’s a violation of the state’s Coastal Act, and they want to hold Khosla responsible.

“It’s critically important because there’s potentially over $10 million in civil fines and penalties owing on these Coastal Act violations,” Mark Massara, Surfrider Foundation attorney said.

In court, Khosla took the witness stand for one hour and 14 minutes. Over and over, he said “I don’t recollect” when asked questions about what he knew about blocking access and about a previous legal challenge that affirmed public access.

“It appears to me that everything he did out there is cloaked in the attorney-client privilege. He cannot remember a thing, and he seems to have taken his manager, the poor man sitting in the front row, as the individual that has closed this beach,” attorney Joe Cotchett said.

Khosla said he receives 500 to 1000 pages of documents a week and trusts his attorneys and his property manager to make decisions and to handle matters. This is a man who spends his life being a detail man, listening to pitches from start-up’s seeking capital.

Khosla and his attorneys would not speak to reporters.

“His intent all along, in our opinion, was to build a private residence, thinking that he could close us down — a beach that’s been open for 100 years,” Cotchett said “It’s as simple as all that. This is not rocket science. You either comply with the law, or you don’t.”

The case is being heard without a jury.

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