Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Allows Tech VC to Close Beach Access

By William Peacock, Esq. on October 31, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For decades, if you wanted to surf Martin's Beach, just south of Half Moon Bay, there was only one way to get there: the private access road. The landowners charged a few bucks, opened up a store along the way, and no one really minded because they could get to the picturesque beach, which is surrounded on two sides by cliffs.

Now, if you want to get to the beach, you're going to need a boat. Two LLCs, Martins Beach 1 and 2, purchased the land in 2008, and shortly thereafter, closed the access road, and hired security guards to keep the beach bums away. The man behind the LLCs is believed to be Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley billionaire who paid $37.5 million for the property and for 45 leased cabins along the cliffs, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

But, the California Constitution!

The California Constitution is pretty clear on these types of matters. The state reserves the right to eminent domain as necessary to get access to "frontages on the navigable waters." In fact, Article X, Section 4 states:

No individual, partnership, or corporation, claiming or possessing the frontage or tidal lands of a harbor, bay, inlet, estuary, or other navigable water in this State, shall be permitted to exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose, nor to destroy or obstruct the free navigation of such water; and the Legislature shall enact such laws as will give the most liberal construction to this provision, so that access to the navigable waters of this State shall be always attainable for the people thereof.

Except, There's That Treaty (And the Supreme Court)

Pesky wars. And pesky treaties. According to the Los Angeles Times, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Gerald Buchwald ruled in Khosla's favor because his land was originally part of a Mexican land grant to the Alviso family that was guaranteed to be recognized by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848.

Even the Supreme Court recognized this exact grant's validity in 1860.

California's Constitution dates, in part, back to 1849, the year before statehood. The relevant provisions, regarding water access, however, seem to date from the 1879 revision.

Judge Buchwald's ruling, to put it simply, was that because the treaty and the Supreme Court case predated the California Constitution, the land now belonging to Khosla is exempt from the state constitution.

The question is, how far does that go? If land, once granted as a ranchero, is exempt from an eminent domain portion of the Constitution, what other laws are not applicable?

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