A Silicon Valley venture capitalist, locked in a battle with the State of California over access to a prime stretch of beach that was popular with surfers, swimmers and fishermen before he bought it and closed it, has proposed a price to restore public access: $30 million.
The offer by lawyers for the billionaire, Vinod Khosla, was the latest salvo in a case that has touched a nerve in California as resentment grows over issues of wealth, privilege and public land use. The case has generated years of protests as it wound its way through state courts, where two lawsuits aim to force Mr. Khosla, who does not live on the property, to let the public back in.
About eight years ago, Mr. Khosla, a founder of Sun Microsystems, snapped up a prime 53-acre parcel of Martins Beach for $37.5 million. The parcel, about four miles south of Half Moon Bay on the San Francisco Peninsula, includes the beach and the road. And for a century, California’s State Lands Commission said, the land had been a haven for the beach-going public.
At first, Mr. Khosla let people use the beach, but in 2010 the tech mogul locked the gate on Martins Beach Road and posted guards.
Now, for the first time, lawyers for Mr. Khosla have proposed in negotiations with the state to restore public access almost the exact amount that Mr. Khosla originally paid for the land.
But the commission’s executive officer, Jennifer Lucchesi, said in a telephone interview, “We do not agree with that value, and we believe the value is significantly less than that.” Ms. Lucchesi added, “We have not seen any backup documentation to support the $30 million value.”
The commission planned to offer its own assessment, she said.
The two sides are actually trying to agree on the value of a right of public use of Martins Beach Road, which leads from the highway to the beach, and access along the shoreline itself, Ms. Lucchesi said.
The talks were initiated under legislation that took effect in January 2015 and gave the commission a year to negotiate public access, she said. If the two sides cannot agree, the commission could resort to eminent domain, which allows the state to expropriate private property for public use.
Mr. Khosla’s lawyer, Dori L. Yob, could not be reached for comment by telephone or email. But in her letter to the commission — dated Feb. 3 — she said that Mr. Khosla’s limited liability companies, the legal entity that owns the property, closed the beach because demand was low, asserting that more than 10 cars showed up to use it only about 15 days a year.
Ms. Yob said that while the current real estate market value of the land was $30 million, the Martins Beach owners previously offered less-expensive solutions to meet the “limited demand” for access as a way to avoid lengthy litigation and further expenses.
“The cost to acquire the property is significant and should be weighed against the benefits,” she wrote. “There is no vital link to navigable waters at issue. There is not a significant demand for access to the property.”