Kicking up the Eminent Domain Sand in California
This news story has all the elements we love in a post: 1) the topic of eminent domain 2) mention of an over the top property 3) someone rich and famous. Hot off the west coast press is the announcement that the California State Lands Commission will hold a public hearing Tuesday to consider acquiring through eminent domain 6.39 acres - encompassing about 2,500 feet of roadway - at Martins Beach from venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.
Just in case you didn't know, Vinod Khosla is the co-founder of Sun Microsystems. He is also the current proprietor of Khosla Ventures that purchased the 89-acre property, which includes the beach and access road, for $32.5 million in 2008.
Negotiations have gone back and forth over public access related to Khosla's decision in 2010 to block the only road leading to the picturesque beach.
Here is the disagreement: Khosla insists he has the right to bar the public anytime he wanted from the road, beach, coastal cliffs and even the submerged tidelands. The state of California, however, claims those areas are under its jurisdiction. On Sept. 30, Khosla sued the State Lands Commission, California Coastal Commission and San Mateo County in U.S. District Court in San Francisco alleging harassment and unfair treatment.
The suit also charges the agencies with trying to take his property without just compensation, which he values at $30 million. Legislative analysts in 2014 gave estimates varying from several hundred thousand dollars to more than $10 million.
SFGate reports, "This is an opportunity for the State Lands Commission to send a message that California's beaches can't be bought and defend the public's right to access our coastline," said Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who sponsored SB968, which authorizes the lands commission to invoke eminent domain if negotiations with Khosla fail. "I encourage Bay Area residents to join me on Tuesday and speak in support of public access at Martins Beach."
According to The Mercury News, it's unclear whether the commissioners will support condemnation, a potentially controversial move. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the early Democratic favorite in the 2018 gubernatorial race, has emphasized that the commission does not have a source of money for the purchase. The commission has a fund for property acquisition, but it may not be used for eminent domain, according to the agency. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo said he will press the commission to choose eminent domain.
- Jennifer Polovetsky
Sanchez & Polovetsky, PLLC