Attorneys for a wealthy property owner who contend it’s his right to gate off Martin’s Beach and environmental activists seeking public access to the coast presented closing arguments in a civil case to be decided by a San Mateo County judge within two months, with some predicting the issue could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The environmental activist group Surfrider Foundation filed the civil lawsuit in March 2013 in an attempt to reopen the secluded sliver of coast just south of Half Moon Bay to the public. The case now rests in the hands of Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach who is anticipated to rule in the next 30 to 60 days.
Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla bought Martin’s Beach, previously open to the public for more than 100 years, in 2008 for $37.5 million and quickly closed the only access road to the public. The property became controversial as the rights of private property owners were pitted against California’s access to more than 1,000 miles of coastline.
Attorney Joe Cotchett, who represents Surfrider in its lawsuit, said although Wednesday may be the last he argues the case in the San Mateo County Superior Court, he doubts the results will end the saga to reopen the beach. The case, Cotchett said, has turned into a seminal one for private property rights and could have a broader effect on other disputes.
“I think this is the case Mr. Khosla wants to take to the Supreme Court,” Cotchett said. “[It’s a] philosophical divide between those who have and those who have not. … This case is not stopping here.”
Surfrider claims the billionaire property owner violated the California Coastal Act when he changed its land use by painting over signs and closing the only access road to the secluded beach before garnering mandated permits from the California Coastal Commission.
The respondent contends private property rights are historically protected under the Constitution and ceasing voluntary public access on private property is not considered development under the Coastal Act.
Jeffrey Essner, the attorney representing Khosla’s Martin’s Beach LLCs, said the California and United States supreme courts uphold the rights of individuals to control access to their property.
“The county, the Coastal Commission and now Surfrider by this action, and Mr. Cotchett’s demand for penalties, are forcing my client to accede his constitutional rights by extortion and give up a protected and cherished (private property) right,” Essner said. “This is forbidden by the Supreme Court and the United States Constitution.”
Surfrider maintains arguments over the constitutionality of the California Coastal Act and its assurance to maintain public access to coastal resources should be discussed in front the Coastal Commission and insist Khosla abide by the law.
Prayer for relief
On behalf of the Coastal Commission, the court can assess fines between $1,000 and $1,500 for each day someone violates the California Coastal Act. Cotchett urged fines be assessed beginning October 2010 and be paid into a special fund through the California Coastal Conservancy, which is overseen by the Legislature and can only be spent on coastal protection activities.
Cotchett said the court should penalize Khosla as he knowingly violated the Coastal Act and to ensure he follows through with applying for permits, Cotchett said.
“Somewhere, somehow, justice has to reign down on this individual, Mr. Khosla, and force him to go to the Coastal Commission and unlock that gate,” Cotchett said.
Essner argued groups like Surfrider and the Friends of Martin’s Beach, which filed a lawsuit alleging Khosla violated the state’s Constitution and was shot down last year, equate to coercion.
“The threat of an activist organization to impose tens of millions of dollars for exercising his constitutional rights is the type of extortion … the Supreme Court explicitly found unconstitutional,” Essner said.
Wealth and status
Both sides argue Khosla’s wealth has been used as a pawn in the case with Surfrider alleging the billionaire believes he is above the law and Essner contending the previous owners, the Deeney family, was never questioned over their disclosure of when to open or close the beach.
Fluid throughout the case were tales of Martin’s Beach historically being a prized surf break, a place for families to picnic and a unique gem along the coast. However, Essner argued that era has passed.
“My client understands that generations of families visited Martin’s Beach. The cherished memories they made there. But the fact is those treasured spots in the sand have long since washed away,” Essner said. “Martin’s Beach was no longer the place it was in the past and my client cannot be forced to recreate history and give up his constitutional rights.”
Surprisingly, Essner stated Khosla originally planned to keep Martin’s Beach open in a manner similar to the Deeney family, but the county sent a letter questioning why he closed it during the winter and instructing him to operate the beach as though it were a business.
Essner argued operating Martin’s Beach as it was previously would require bathroom upgrades, picnic tables, trash cans and would ultimately force Khosla to operate a business at a loss.
Surfrider has argued Khosla was well aware of the access conditions prior to buying the property and is required by law to receive approval from the Coastal Commission if he wishes to close Martin’s Beach to the public.
Khosla had not spoken publicly about owning Martin’s Beach until subpoenaed to testify in the case. Surfrider and state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, have said Khosla has dismissed all opportunities for an amenable compromise.
Concurrent with the Surfrider case, Hill proposed Senate Bill 968, which would require Khosla to negotiate with the State Lands Commission to reopen the beach. If a compromise cannot be met by Jan. 1, 2016, Khosla could face the state using condemnation for a right-of-way easement to create an access road off Highway 1.
Hill’s legislation easily passed the Senate and was amended in the Assembly to encourage, but not require the State Lands Commission to use its already allotted authority to use eminent domain. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Appropriations where it must be heard by August. Should it pass, the bill will go to the Assembly floor where it will need at least 41 votes to pass.
Eric Buescher, an attorney representing Surfrider, maintains the case isn’t about the constitutionality of the Coastal Act and Martin’s Beach has been needlessly closed for too long and the public need not wait any longer.
“The question here is not about the defendants private property rights. The question here is about whether the defendant violated the Coastal Act. … Disagreeing with the Coastal Act is not a valid reason to refuse to comply with it,” Buescher said. “The time for [Khosla] to be held liable and accountable for [his] contract is now, so the 6 million people who live within an hour’s drive of the San Mateo County coast are not deprived of its resources.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106
Silicon Valley’s highest paid female excutive? Not Mayer, not Whitman, not Sandberg
The top-paid female executive in Silicon Valley (indeed, the entire U.S.) isn’t a CEO. She’s Safra Catz, president and CFO at Oracle Corp., who took in $44.3 million in 2013, according to FindTheBest.com.
Three other Silicon Valley executives number among the top 10. Yahoo Inc. CEOMarissa Mayer placed number three on the ranking with $24.9 million a year; Hewlett-Packard Corp. CEO Meg Whitman, was seventh at $17.6 million; and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg captured the eighth position at $16.1 million.
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison apparently likes paying his top executives — including himself — handsomely. He’s the highest paid CEO in Silicon Valley, according to FindTheBest, coming in fifth on the list of all U.S. executives at public companies, at $79.6 million in 2013.
Catz, 51, ranked 18th on the list among all executives. Still, she earned 14 percent less last year than she did in 2012. She has been president at Oracle since January 2004 and CFO since November 2005.
There’s a big gap among highly paid female executives after Catz. Mayer ranks 58th out of 16,000 companies on the list. The second highest-paid female executive in the U.S., United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt, ranked 26th among all executives.
Universal (a division of Comcast CMCSA -0.73% Corp.) has dropped this full-length theatrical trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey courtesy of NBC’s The Today Show. The last ten seconds are arguably not safe for work, yet the trailer earned the green-band (for general audiences) approval. There was actually a sanitized for network television version that debuted this morning on The Today Show which was followed by an interview with the cast and a clip from the film. This was actually preceded several days ago by what amounted to a teaser to the trailer presented by Beyoncé Knowles’s Instagram account. The star of Austin Powers: Goldmember and The Pink Panther will be singing a version of “Crazy in Love” for the film adaptation of E.L. James novel, some of which is sampled in the above trailer. It was certainly a different way to drop a yet another teaser for a trailer. But them’s the breaks as the technology changes how marketing materials like this are dispersed. In this day and age, how a trailer is released is arguably as much of a news story as the existence of said trailer and what it contains about the film it is advertising.
This one was actually supposed to come out next week, where it would have competed directly with Walt Disney's DIS -0.53% Guardians of the Galaxy. But it was moved back to February 13th, 2015. So yes, Universal is either betting that women will drag their significant others to this erotic drama as something of a Valentine’s Day date movie and/or that single women will take in the picture as a kind of girls’ night out outing for the manufactured romantic holiday. This may seem like an unusual V-Day pick, but I’d argue it’s no more unconventional than studios opening a male-centric action picture over the holiday weekend and cynically hoping to woo the female audience by showing off what little romantic content it happens to contain (re: Daredevil). Maybe Universal will cut a trailer with a car chase and/or an explosion or two.
I’m not going to go into the issues that critics have with the source material, which is of course a bondage-centric bit of Twilight fan fiction that became a publishing sensation and indirectly coined the rather offensive term “mommy porn.” As is always the case when females become interested in any kind of popular art, the pundits and analysts were out in full force over the last couple years trying to explain why women had the gall to enjoy something that isn’t explicitly targeted at the male audience. No one feels the need to explain why men like Transformers, but we all have to wring our hands over why women enjoy Sex and the City, Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Grey. My only issue with the film is that the online fan petition to get Alexis Bledel cast as Anastasia Steele didn’t work. Because you know, art…
I wrote last week about the fifteenth anniversary of Eyes Wide Shut and how Warner Bros. blew a chance to legitimize the NC-17 rating as a mainstream classification for adult films that aren’t explicitly pornographic in nature. I’m assuming Universal is going for an R-rating for at least the domestic theatrical release, but one could argue that Fifty Shades of Grey is also something of an opportunity to legitimize the NC-17 at least as a commercial option, if not an artistic one. Point being, I can’t imagine anyone intending to see an R-rated version of Fifty Shades of Grey would be turned off by the prospect of an NC-17 version. Nonetheless, I can’t imagine this film won’t get… um… spanked by (predominantly male) critics at large so artistic respect would still be out of reach for the NC-17 even on the off-chance that Universal takes the plunge.
Of course, the big question is whether or not adult moviegoers, female or male, will venture out to a theater and watch what is basically (and I say this without moral judgment) pornography amid other moviegoers. If ever there was a test case for a major studio release going Video On Demand and first run theatrical on the same date, it is this one. One last thing, the one unconditionally positive aspect of this film is that it is a female-targeted motion picture that is based on a novel written by a woman, adapted by a female screenwriter (Kelly Marcel) and directed by a female director (Sam Taylor-Johnson). In an era when women can’t even getting directing gigs for Sex and the City movies, the Hunger Games and Divergent movies are all helmed by men, and only the first Twilight was directed by a woman, Taylor-Johnson getting a crack at a probable hit darn-well matters. For that reason alone, I hope Fifty Shades of Grey makes a boatload of money next February. Fifty Shades of Grey, starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, opens February 13th, 2015. As always, we’ll see.