SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The state Assembly approved legislation Wednesday requiring a state agency to negotiate public access to a secluded beach south of Half Moon Bay that requires going through a billionaire’s private waterfront property.
It is the latest twist in a dispute that has renewed debate about public access to California beaches.
The public had access to Martins Beach for decades through a private access road, but it was closed after Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla bought a 53-acre parcel next to the secluded cove in 2008 for $32.5 million.
SB968 “asks the State Lands Commission to go negotiate, to spend a year negotiating with the property owner to gain public access to this jewel on the California coast,” said Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, who presented the bill in the Assembly.
The legislation by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, narrowly passed the Assembly on a 41-24 vote, returning it to the state Senate for a final vote.
Several lawsuits have been filed seeking to restore public access to the beach, and a judge is currently considering the issue in a lawsuit filed by the Surfrider Foundation, a coastal protection group.
The issue has sparked a debate about private property rights, and several lawmakers were reluctant to weigh in Wednesday. Of the 78 Assembly lawmakers present, 13 did not vote on the matter.
“We should vote ‘no’ on this and chill this debate and let the courts decide it. Let them fight it out there, then come back and see what the appropriate remedy is after that court case is settled,” said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, who voted against it.
An attorney for Khosla, Jeffrey Essner, did not immediately return a telephone message left Wednesday. But Khosla has previously said he does not need state permission to close access to the beach and noted that members of the public previously paid a small fee to access the beach road.
Khosla is a co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in June that gave the California Coastal Commission authority to fine property owners who illegally block beach access to the public up to $11,500 a day.
Lawmakers also took up other legislation Wednesday, including:
—A constitutional amendment by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, that would allow the Legislature to withhold pay from suspended lawmakers. SCA17, which will appear on the November 2016 ballot, responds to a string of scandals that has led to the suspension of three state senators this year. It passed the Assembly 64-1.
— AB2320 by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, which would reform election law by banning candidates and elected officials from paying their spouse or domestic partner from campaign accounts for fundraising work. The Senate approved it 33-1, sending it to Brown.
—AB1532 by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, which mandates a six-month license suspension for drivers involved in hit-and-run incidents in which a person is struck. Judges currently can restrict driving privileges but Gatto’s bill would require that a license be suspended. The Senate approved it 35-0, returning it to the Assembly.
—SB611 by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, requiring modified limousines to have two fire extinguishers and to undergo regular safety inspections. It comes in response to an explosion and fire that killed five women riding in a converted Lincoln Town Car in 2013. Brown vetoed a similar bill last year because of the cost; the revised legislation includes inspection fees. It passed the Assembly 63-0 and goes to the Senate.
—SB955, by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, which adds human trafficking to the list of offenses for which authorities can request a wiretap for electronic communications, which would be consistent with federal law. It passed the Assembly 69-0 and returns to the Senate.
— SB69 by Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, which gives additional property tax revenue to cities that incorporated between 2004 and 2012 to make up for lost vehicle license fee revenues local officials had anticipated receiving before the recession hit. It passed the Assembly 66-0 and returns to the Senate.
Associated Press writer Judy Lin also contributed to this report.
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