Will Democratic Lands Commission Allow Billionaire Donor To Lock Gates To Beach?

In a closed session of the Lands Commission in Sacramento Tuesday,  in what is likely to be a windowless room, the frontrunner for Democratic governor of California will make a decision that speaks to whether Democrats will play hard ball with billionaires to the protect  the coast.
 
Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who sits on the Lands Commission, along with Democratic Controller Betty Yee and Finance Director Michael Cohen, could give a billionaire major donor party donor the ability to privatize Martins Beach in Northern California. 
 
The fight over Martins Beach, where Consumer Watchdog hero Joe Cotchett helped the surfers and Surfriders Foundation to stop the beach’s closure with a court victory, is a test of whether top Democrats will be doing for one of their billionaire donors what they criticize Donald Trump for getting ready to do in Washington.
 
Gavin Newsom says he stands with the surfers and the coast following a letter Consumer Watchdog sent to him and the other two members of the California Lands Commission. Yee says she’s with the coast too.
 
The question is: will they play hard ball with Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley financier and major Democratic party donor, who has refused to negotiate in good faith for public access. He’s demanding $33 million from the state for a right of way.   In a closed session on litigation, they will either agree or not to use eminent domain to take over the access.
 
See the Agenda for the State Lands Commission meeting on Tuesday here.
 
The Chronicle weighed in yesterday that all eyes are on Newsom.  LA Times columnist Steve Lopez pointed out the weight of the decision.

If the bully won’t agree to a reasonable price for a simple trail to a beach that’s owned by the public, play hardball. Condemn his property, evict him and take it back, even if it that means a long court fight, and even if the money is hard to come by.

 

This state, its elected officials and its appointed regulators have got to send a stronger message that the coast is ours, by law, by right, by virtue of our voter-approved mandate that a gift of nature is not a commodity, but a public treasure.

 

That’s especially important now that Trump is on the loose.

 
State Senator Jerry Hill is introducing legislation to address money for the property but that should not dissuade Newsom, Yee and Cohen from voting for eminent domain to be applied. That’s the only thing to send a message to any billionaire beach owner that wants to play the same games as Khosla.
 
If Democrats want to claim Trump is the party of “No Billionaire Left Behind,” they have to practice what they preach and stand up for the beach. Listen to Consumer Watchdog's latest podcast for more on this.
 
Muddying the decision is the fact that ex-parte communications between the Commission and Khosla are not banned til January, when a new law takes effect.  A call to Newsom’s office found that he does not disclose such meetings.
 
Did Khosla meet with Newsom and the Commission? Did Khosla pressure them? The public doesn’t now have a right to know, unless the Commissioners volunteer an answer. 
 
The stakes on Tuesday are big.  And the signs of impropriety are there.
 
As CW noted in our letter to the Commission:
 

Following Democratic denunciations of a billionaire president and his billionaire appointees, the saga of public access to Martins Beach shows the Democratic Party in California has its own billionaires to reckon with….
 
Particularly at this time in American history, the California Lands Commission should not pander to a billionaire Democratic donor who has leveraged his wealth and political connections to privatize public property. 
 
Ex-parte communications between interested parties and the Commission are not prohibited until January and surfers have reported that the fix is already in for Mr. Khosla at Tuesday’s hearing. 
 
In addition, to Mr. Khosla’s prolific political giving, the political connections involved raise the specter of impropriety should Mr. Khosla prevail Tuesday.   
 
For example, Mr. Khosla’s is represented in his fight to keep the public off Martin’s Beach by Rusty Areias of California Strategies.  Jason Kinney, a key confidante and consultant to the Lieutenant Governor, is also a partner at California Strategies.
 
This is a moment to send a signal to billionaires that California’s coast is not for sale and that California leaders stand with beach goers, the coast and in the way of billionaires trying to flout coastal protection laws and deny Californians rights to our own land. If Mr. Khosla succeeds in bullying this Commission, then billionaires up and down the coast will be emboldened.
 
We place our trust and faith in your integrity and diligence. 
 

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