Bill Would Provide Funds to Buy Martins Beach Access: State Senator Seeks to Support State Lands Commission Should It Choose Eminent Domain

March 09, 2017

Daily Journal
By Samantha Weigel

As efforts to secure public access to the secluded Martins Beach wind through the courts, new legislation could prepare the state to pay the wealthy property owner if officials opt to proceed with eminent domain.

Details were revealed Wednesday on a proposal by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to equip the State Lands Commission with funds to buy an easement at the contended property just south of Half Moon Bay.

Senate Bill 42 seeks to allocate $360,000 from the state’s budget, up to $1 million from the SLC and allow the public or other government agencies to donate toward securing a 6.4-acre easement winding along an existing road and down to the beach.

But even if Hill can fend off anticipated lobbying efforts from Martins Beach owner venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and earn the governor’s signature, it is ultimately up to the SLC whether it will proceed with its first-ever eminent domain case in the state agency’s nearly 78-year history. 

The SLC has not yet scheduled a meeting to discuss next steps after deciding in December to find out more about the process following two years of negotiations with Khosla that ended in a stalemate.

Attorneys for the Menlo Park venture capitalist have contended their client believes strongly in private property rights and isn’t willing to be coerced into giving up his constitutional rights.

While the SLC had offered him $360,000 for an easement, those funds cannot technically be used for condemnation — a legal proceeding to determine the fair market value of the land and potentially seize an easement. Thus, Hill said he was prompted to propose SB 42 to create a new account that can be used should the SLC proceed.

It’s just one step in the saga to secure public access to the crescent-shaped beach; the closure of which has resulted in two ongoing lawsuits, prior legislation by Hill and now the SLC contemplating its next move.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces and I feel I have an obligation to the people, to my constituents, and to the people of San Mateo County and to the state, to do what I can to keep the process moving. Certainly it’s moving within the courts,” Hill said, adding his job is to “have our legislation in place to allow for the acquisition of the property. And it’s a combined effort at this point, but I think we can’t let any one effort be ignored.”

When negotiations stalled

Under direction from a prior law authored by Hill, the SLC spent nearly two years seeking an easement. But when negotiations stalled, the SLC is now left to decide whether it will for the first time wield its power of eminent domain.