back to article Sun of a beach! Java biz founder loses battle to keep his shore private

Vinod Khosla, cofounder of Sun Microsystems and billionaire venture capitalist, has lost his battle for his own private beach after surfers successfully sued him for access. In 2008 Khosla spent $37.5m on a 53-acre property on the San Mateo coast overlooking Martin's Beach, a 200-acre stretch of sand that is much beloved by …

  1. Proud Father


    "His lawyers argued that maintaining the road would prove too costly for the billionaire"

    What's wrong with this sentence? Can you spot it?

    1. asdf

      Re: huh?

      Any pizza delivery driver will tell you rich people tend to be shitty tippers and people with manual labor jobs though generally poorer tend to be more appreciative of someone else's labor and tip better.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: huh?

        "[...] rich people tend to be shitty tippers [...]"

        The Kingsley Amis novel "I want it now" was about rich people's circles. After experiencing a distinctly low-cost buffet at a private villa (island?) he is told something like "It isn't a question of getting rich - the trick is to stay rich".

      2. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: huh?

        Beat me to it.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: huh? Beat me to it.

          No I think Iain Thomson did when the wrote it. You people new to the register?

          And Iain you missed the obvious one about his security being modelled on his software?

    2. AceRimmer

      Re: huh?

      "His lawyers argued that maintaining the road would prove too costly for the billionaire"

      What's wrong with this sentence?

      Can you spot it?

      I think the sentence was written in the same theme as:

      "So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?"

  2. Adair Silver badge

    Welcome to...

    feudal USA. But, in this case the peasants may have won.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Welcome to...

      Won this time, but not for long

    2. Gray

      Re: Welcome to...

      Tell 'im to move north to Washington State ... the idiots in the legislature sold off the public beaches years ago to adjacent property owners. They only stopped in the late 60's when somebody reminded them that only a small percentage of public beach access remained unsold. 'Net tycoons up here buy up entire islands for their private fiefdoms.

      If it weren't for the massive federal military land acquisitions for coastal forts and such that were later released to the state for public park facilities, Washington residents would have virtually no beach access in one of the nation's largest marine estuarine environments.

      F*ck politicians and the horse's asses they ride into office.

  3. waldo kitty

    how many...

    ... appeals are allowed? this appears to be a win for the peasants on the first appeal and there's talk about appealing the decision which takes us to two appeals...

    got my beer and popcorn... this might be interesting to watch...

    1. Red Bren

      Re: how many...

      How many appeals are allowed? As many as it takes until one of the sides runs out of money to pay the lawyers.

      It must be great to work in an environment where you can charge a fortune for your services and if you fail to deliver, just explain to your clients that their opponents must have paid more. But they can still win on appeal by spending even more...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: how many...

        "As many as it takes until one of the sides runs out of money to pay the lawyers."

        The plot of Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" (1852) - the case of "Jarndyce v Jarndyce".

        1. Peter Simpson 1
          Thumb Down

          Re: how many...

          Or, perhaps., "A Tale of Two Cities"?

          In the spirit of the Old Roman Games ----------------------->

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: how many...

      You appeal up through the courts so you get two appeals max (Appellate and Supreme) if the court agrees to hear it. The California Supreme Court doesn't have to hear the appeal and if they don't or they uphold the ruling that's basically it. He could try appealing to a federal court afterwards but they don't have to hear it either and if they do his only federal argument (because you need one to establish jurisdiction) would be a treaty which doesn't actually apply to him and couldn't be enforced. Last I checked, this is not the 1840's and Khosla is not a Mexican inhabiting territory that just changed hands. If he tried to argue that, the Ninth Circut would politely tell him to sod off.

  4. asdf


    Cool common sense prevailed over money for once. Rich people own everything else but owning access to waterways and waterways is too much even for the land of corporatism we call murika.

  5. Commenter44655

    Public highway

    They should push for the state to do what the state of Oregon did -- it made the coastline a "public highway." Nobody can own it.

    Problem solved. Of course, it was really done because it was the only road between certain places, but the effect is the same.

    1. John D. Blair

      Re: Public highway

      That *is* how it works in California. You can't own public waterways and beaches, and you can't prevent people from using them. In this case it was the only land access to this public property that was in dispute.

  6. Kev99

    Federal law from late 1800's applies

    I wish I could remember the exact details but there was an article in the Miami Herald about the Florida shoreline & public access. In the article the author found out there was a federal law from the late 1800's that declared all navigable waterways were the property of the citizens of the US and therefore access could not be denied by anyone to these waterways. The law, if what's left of my memory works, specifically included the ocean coasts.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Federal law from late 1800's applies

      One argument presented is that the property lines pre-date California and are therefore exempt from new zoning. It's kind of like declaring your land to be your own country, which others have found not to work so well when the pirates show up.

      For now he'll have to shout like an old man, "GET OFF MY LAWN!"

      1. Anomalous Cowturd

        Re: GET OFF MY LAWN!


        "Git orf moi LAAAANDD!" #BLAM#


    3. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      Re: Federal law from late 1800's applies

      Good, but I guess that doesn't include the beach, or the road to the beach. Unless there are some really vicious rocks offshore, the water is still perfectly accessible by water.

    4. Irony Deficient Silver badge

      Re: Federal law from late 1800s applies

      Kev99, in the particular case of Florida, the law in question could have been An Act amending, and supplementary to, the “Act for ascertaining claims and titles to land in the territory of Florida,” and to provide for the survey and disposal of the public lands in Florida. (AKA the Act of March 3, 1823 [3 Stat. 754]), which in its Section 12 established that all navigable rivers and waters of Florida (thereby including its coastal waters) were public highways.

    5. Goldmember

      Re: Federal law from late 1800's applies

      "there was a federal law from the late 1800's that declared all navigable waterways were the property of the citizens of the US and therefore access could not be denied by anyone to these waterways."

      He wasn't blocking access, he was stopping people accessing by crossing his land, which happens to be the only land side entrance. There was nothing he could do to stop people accessing it by boat. But that was obviously more than a little inconvenient.

  7. Keven E.

    I wonder...

    ... how much of the actual beach is included. Surfing up to but not onto the beach would be a bit restrictive.

    1. MondoMan

      Re: I wonder...

      I seem to remember something about "up to the high tide line", so wait until low tide.

      1. IvyKing

        Re: I wonder...

        That's about what I remember as well. The ballot measure creating the California Coastal Commission was on the last state election that took place before I was old enough to vote.

        Kind of nice to see the Commission go after the "big guys" for once, though they give way to much deference to the Hollyweird types.

      2. Raoul Miller

        Re: I wonder...

        It's the "mean tide line" - so halfway between average high tide and average low tide.

        And surfers don't surf *onto* the beach - you'd break your fins that way.

  8. MooJohn

    They get beach access, but

    Why does he have to maintain a road for that purpose? Just because the last guy did? If the last guy gave away free snacks to passers-by, would he have to as well?

    If they have just got to reach that section of beach, let the greedy lazy bastards walk from the nearest public access point. He should still be allowed to fence around the property he does own.

    Is he now liable for injuries that happen if someone is traipsing across his property to get to that "special" beach?

    1. JeevesMkII

      Re: They get beach access, but

      Maintaining public rights of way is one of the liabilities you accept when you buy a property. If he's pissed about it, well tough. Caveat emptor.

      I did enjoy the idea that it was the members of the public who are greedy, not the billionaire who wanted a private beach though. Keep it up, you'll master satire yet.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Access means access Re: They get beach access, but

      IME a lot of techies, including a lot of El Reg readers, are very literal-minded when it comes to legal issues, but the law does not work like that. It's not like code, which does exactly what it says, no more and no less.

      So if the law says that the beach is public, and that private property owners can't block "access", it is NOT the case that a billionaire (or cartel of billionaires) could buy up an unbroken chain of property and tell people "you can park 20 miles away in San Francisco and walk down, and *technically* that's access". The law -- and any competent judge -- will ask "would a reasonable person call that access?", not "would a literal dictionary definition call that access?". Courts are looking to discern the intent and the real effect, not some magic in the precise form of words.

      Oh and by the way, the concept of public rights of way over private land is one of the oldest in English law -- this is not something that touchy-feely 1960s California hippies dreamed up while on weed.

      1. Michael Strorm

        Re: Access means access They get beach access, but

        Too many "logically-minded" techies are smart in their given area, but not smart enough to realise when their knowledge- and more appropriately, way of thinking- doesn't extend to other areas as well as they think it does.

        Too many *think* the law works by pure logic or something close to it- which is why you'll see smartass arguments (e.g. on Slashdot) that someone should have used to get out of a legal fix... tactics which would be slapped down by any real-world judge.

        Taking this further, there's also a tendency to assume how an esoteric law works can be logically extrapolated from how existing laws work (based on their already flawed and incomplete knowledge). But, again, real-world laws don't work like that. Sometimes they *are* inconsistent or are treated as special cases, and real-world precedent and application has to be considered.

        The law isn't a logical system (in the mathematical sense), and the only way to be sure how a given law works (regardless of which country you live in) is to *find out* how it works *and* how it's been applied in the real world, since- as you say- the law generally isn't as fixed and clearly-defined a set of rules as techies and geeks sometimes think.

        Some may argue that the law *is* too frequently illogical and unfair, and I might agree to some extent. But that doesn't change the fact that this isn't always the way it is- like that or not, but don't shoot the messenger. And in practice, any workable law system could never be entirely "logical" because that would be impractical to apply to the real world.

        tl;dr - Too many techies think being an expert in one area makes them an expert in others and that the law is a pseudo-logical system that can be guessed at to cover up their ignorance.

        1. Raoul Miller

          Re: Access means access They get beach access, but

          "Too many techies think being an expert in one area makes them an expert in others"

          See, also, climatology and climate change.

          I love when some fool with a BSc in engineering tries to point out the "flaws in methodology" that climate and atmospheric scientists have somehow missed in the last 35 years of research.

          1. A Twig

            Re: Access means access They get beach access, but

            Scientists and engineers will grab almost any chance to disagree going, so hardly surprising! :)

  9. Hud Dunlap

    Isn't this a federal issue?

    If the basis of the claim is a treaty that makes it a Federal issue until the courts say otherwise. The fact that it never made it to Federal court means his claim was always bogus.

    When I lived in West Palm Beach there were similar issues. Florida law clearly states that the beach up to mean high tide is public property. An area know forever as Two Roads was the party place for generations. Somebody built a Condo near by and then tried to shut down the partiers because of noise. I left the state before I found out what happened.

    I am glad the surfers won.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Isn't this a federal issue?

      All states have coastal access laws of some kind or another and most specifically state that public has a right and unrestricted visitation access to those coasts.

      1. Jeff Green

        Re: Isn't this a federal issue?

        Even the inland ones?

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Isn't this a federal issue?

          Even the inland ones?

          Certainly some of the inland ones, because some of them have a lot of coastline. Michigan has the 9th longest coast of the US states - only slightly less than California.

          There are legal battles over beach access in Nevada.

          It's not all about the oceans.

      2. J__M__M

        Re: Isn't this a federal issue?

        All states have coastal access laws of some kind or another...

        Except for, maybe, like, Kansas or something.

    2. fishbone

      Re: Isn't this a federal issue?

      When I was a kid in the sixties there was a hotel on Marathon Key that had a chain link fence out in the gulf of Mexico fifty feet at least separating their beach and touristas from the island residents. This was way before it became a destination, it was fishing shacks and not affluent natives. Can't imagine that now but only from a liability standpoint.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Isn't this a federal issue?

        Seem to recall that when Mitterrand became first socialist president of France one of his ministers decided to take action against all the hotels and cats that had annexed parts of beaches around StTropez etc. He invoked a Napoleonic law that provided a right of way all around the coastline and arrived to walk along it at these beaches ... complete with a bulldozer to deal with any obstructions that he might encounter!

    3. Fungus Bob

      Re: Isn't this a federal issue?

      His original claim that the US government had to honor Mexican land grants because of of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was bogus because the US Senate deleted that particular article of the treaty before ratifying it.

      So he's just being a dick.

  10. Muskiier

    A worthy cause and a great victory!

    In Ontario, Canada, there's proportionally little public access to the main accessible, populated, lakes that are within a reasonable distance of major cities. Public shoreline is confined to relatively few parks and beaches.Hooray for the surfers in San Mateo! Keep up the fight.

  11. A_Melbourne

    What an idiot.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    yes, but who wants

    'orrible hippy types wrecking the beach and the view outside your home?

    We've all seen point break. Gangsters the lot of them.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Arrrrr - Prvateers Ahoy

    Well if he really wants to claim he is still part of the Spanish Main, and not subject to the new fangled post 1848 laws, then there are bound to be old privateering commisions, and he won't be protected by the Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law of 16 April 1856 that abolished privateering.

    So up anchor me hearties, I knows of a right plump galleon that's ripe for plunder, and awash with a brace o' strumpets to boot.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am actually with the rich guy this time.

    He owns the land and has to pay for upkeep and the road etc.

    If I was him I would build those sand things that stretch out intop the water to keep down erosion. They have the side effect of making it unsafe to surf of course :)

    1. Michael Strorm

      Armchair lawyer strikes again!

      "If I was him I would build those sand things that stretch out intop the water to keep down erosion. They have the side effect of making it unsafe to surf of course"

      If I was him (and enough of a dick to want to try that idea), *I'd* be damn sure to check the legality of a smartass move like that. Are you entirely confident that you'd be able to prove in court that this was your "intent" and not just the attempt to block surfers many people might think it looks like (because, of course, it is).

      And even if you could convince the court that it *was* a good faith attempt to "block erosion", would the court consider you had the right to do that, and that it outweighed the surfers' rights?

      Or that you might get sued up the wazoo when a surfer injures themselves on the structures?

      (FWIW, I'm not unsympathetic to the principle that the cost of maintaining the public right of way *should* be paid for from public funds. But it might still be in the landowner's interest to do it themselves if that publicly-funded right of way had to be the cheapest, straight-line solution where they didn't necessarily want it!)

      1. Mike Moyle

        Re: Armchair lawyer strikes again!

        AND -- speaking here whilst wearing my municipal-government employee hat -- he would also doubtless face a tangle of assorted local, state, and federal Conservation, Environmental, Historic, Wetlands, and Whatevere-Else Commissions who might have jurisdiction over dredging up sand and/or changing the beach contours.

    2. Daniel B.


      He owns the land where the only access road to the beach passes through, not the beach itself. Building those things would probably be illegal anyway, because he would be doing that outside his property.

      He might apply to get public funding for the access road maintenance, though.

  15. Stretch

    what an asshat!

    Great way to make yourself popular locally.

    Oh he has to pay for some upkeep out of his BILLION DOLLAR FORTUNE. Oh deary, deary me. Poor rich guy.

    What I don't understand, is that they knew where he lived, and didn't sort the problem quickly and quietly by drowning the fucker on his own precious beach.

    1. DugEBug

      Re: what an asshat!

      While I have to agree that this guy is truly a bad neighbor, why all the venom for the 'rich guy'? He EARNED his riches by founding a company that has since provide a lot of jobs for the likes of those who read El Reg.

      If I EARNED a billion bucks, I'd likely build a nice beach-front estate (along with a bunch of security). Instead of being a jerk about it, I would be grateful for the fortune and want to provide access to the public beach in front of my estate.

      Maybe people lose perspective after they earn their billions...

      1. Daniel B.

        Re: what an asshat!

        I think it is not venom against the guy for being a rich guy, but because he's being an asshat with said acquired riches. If you were rich and nice to your community, you wouldn't get any venom at all.

  16. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Some 20+ years ago I was amazed that beach side residential communities in California - not just individual billionaires - could have effectively private (residents only) beaches by the simple device of providing free access, making every empty space within walking distance from the beach a public parking lot with meters, and limiting the meters to 20-25 minutes. No one can enjoy a beach if one needs to feed the meter every 20 minute to avoid a hefty fine, so beaches were deserted, pristine, and beautiful.

    I was assured by aborigines that it was both legal and common. It was much closer to LA than SF, as I recall, not sure if local by-laws weigh in differently...

    Maybe that's the rich guy's next recourse?

  17. Duke2010

    Tsk tsk

    Silly, everyone knows once you become a billionaire you buy your own island. Do what you want then!

  18. Anomalous Cowshed

    In defence of the billionnaire...

    Er...Emmm...I...if...I mean...Never mind, carry on as you were!

  19. John Tserkezis


    A locked gate and a court appearance with an upcoming appeal. Is that the best this pussy could muster up?

    It must have something to do with living on land, but in close proximity to the water, also here in Australia, it muddles their brain to get a "I own everying and all of yous can get fucked" attitude. Here they go beyond padlocking gates however, they drill holes into the base of trees, fill it with poison, then the fuckers wait for the *coucil* to get rid of the dead trees - purely coincedently the trees that were once blocking their view of the water. On council here installed nets where the trees used to be, to assist the micro ecosystem to recover faster from the changed windage conditions. It has the added bonus of holding up a massive "up yours" to the owner(s) who had their hand in taking the trees down in the first place.

    Don't expect any sympathy from me Khosla.

  20. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Passive aggression

    Just as I advocate for all of the spies working in the new NSA data collection center in Utah, a great display of community would be to not sell this billionaire anything.

    I think he might find it hard living if grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants found his money no good in their shops. Businesses in California do not have to sell to everybody that walks in the door. While it might be possible to order groceries in via online purchases, having to drive out of the area to fill up the gas tank might be an issue.

    If this guy has kids in local schools, parents can tell their children they aren't allowed to play with them. It's harsh, but effective.

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