Enclosing the Commons: Tech Billionaire Buys Beloved Beach

San Mateo residents sue a Silicon Valley tycoon for buying and closing off a public beach in violation of California Coastal Act.
May 16, 2014, 7am PDT | Michael Newton
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Paul Stainthorp

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that on Monday, Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who co-founded Sun Microsystems, had his first day in court following his purchase of Martins Beach in San Mateo County, California.

The beach, which has been open to the public for more than a century, is now gated off, and protected by armed security. The only way onto the beach is from the water.

"You can’t just go down and buy a beach from the city and county of San Mateo and close the beach down," Joe Cotchett, who represents the Surfrider Foundation, told the local CBS affiliate. "We hope that the court, after a trial, will order Mr. Khosla to follow the law and apply for a permit to close down the beach." Cochett, who represents the Surfrider foundation in filing the suit.

Plaintiffs claim Khosla’s disfiguration of a billboard on-site constitutes new development, requiring a permit that Khosla never applied for. During the hearing, Vinod remained "evasive and uncooperative.”

This raises new questions on how the acquisition of public lands by increasingly wealthy, insular owners affects the enclosure of public space and other recreational areas.

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Published on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in San Francisco Chronicle
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