SAN FRANCISCO
03/13/2013 07:26 pm ET

Surfrider Foundation Lawsuit: Organization Sues Martin's Beach Over Public Access

Tides are changing at Martin's Beach, and local surfers are fighting back.

Attorneys for the Surfrider Foundation filed a lawsuit yesterday against Martin's Beach to gain public access to the popular San Mateo surf spot.

The Surfrider Foundation claims the owner of Martin's Beach is blocking access to the only road connecting State Highway 1 to the shoreline, which violates the California Coastal Act. The court must decide if the private owners of the property have a legal obligation to provide beach access to the public.

"The law under the Coastal Act requires you to get a permit if you do anything to change the use or change the intensity of use at a coastal area or beach," Surfrider Foundation's lawyer, Mark Massara, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Historically, Martin's Beach has served as a stomping ground for fisherman, bathers, families and surfers. Beach-goers were granted entry for $5. Former property owners managed a concession stand on the beach, so maintaining public access served in their best interest.

But when the new owner purchased the 53 coastal acres for $37.5 million in 2008, the concession was closed and a sign was posted to ward off the public.

"The beach is public. There is no dispute about that. The access is what we are talking about," Martin's Beach attorney Joan Gallo told the San Francisco Chronicle. "That is a private road. People were allowed through in the past as paying guests. They had no rights. Under the Constitution there is no right of public access."

Massara is working with Bay Area law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy as well as former congressman Pete McCloskey, co-founder of the first Earth Day, to protect the surfers' rights.

The controversy reached new heights when five surfers were arrested for trespassing on the beach. The case was later dropped, but it heightened the stakes.

"I wish I were younger and had been with the five young surfers who broke the chain across the only access road to force recognition of the public's historic legal access to beautiful beach," McCloskey told Surfline.com.

The San Francisco Surfrider chapter, which boasts over 1,200 members from the Bay Area, came out in support of the lawsuit on their Facebook page.

"Kudos to Martin's Beach locals, Mark Massara and others for stepping up and getting involved," the group wrote. "Battles like this are at the heart of our identity, mission and goals!"

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