NEW YORK: A prominent Indian-American billionaire is locked in a real estate battle with the State of California after he sought USD 30 million for reallowing public access to a stretch of beach he owns, a media report said.
Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems, had bought a prime 53-acre parcel of Martins Beach, a haven for the beachgoing public, for USD 37.5 million eight years ago.
At first, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist let people use the beach, but in 2010 locked the gate on Martins Beach Road and posted guards.
A report in the New York Times said the case 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 Khosla, who does not live on the property, to let the public back in,” it said.
Lawyers for Mr Khosla have proposed in negotiations with the state to restore public access to the beach for USD 30 million, almost the amount he had paid for the land.
California’s State Lands Commission’s executive officer Jennifer Lucchesi said in the report that the commission does not agree with that value.
“We have not seen any backup documentation to support the USD 30 million value. The commission planned to offer its own assessment,” she said.
The talks were initiated under legislation that took effect in January 2015, 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 Yob said in her letter to the commission this month 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.
Mr Yob said that while the current real estate market value of the land was USD 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,” the report cited her as saying.