This week, a California court created an important precedent for public right-of-way access cases, when it ordered a billionaire to reopen access to a formerly public beach in San Mateo County. The First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 3-0 that Vinod Khosla violated state law when he closed access to Martins Beach after purchasing the beachfront property surrounding the area for $32.5 million.

Located about 30 miles south of San Francisco, the beach was once a popular spot for fishing, surfing, and other recreational activities. The property included a gate and parking area that charged the public a nominal fee for access. The previous owner admitted the public for nearly 70 years, even providing public restrooms and a general store. However, a year after purchasing the property, Khosla’s management companies closed the gate, put up a no access sign, and threatened trespassing charges. While the law in California states that all beaches should be open to the public up to the “mean high tide line,” Khosla shut down public access in 2009, citing the cost of maintenance and liability insurance and has been embroiled in legal battles ever since.

The three-judge panel affirmed a lower-court ruling and rejected Khosla’s appeal, which originally stems from a lawsuit filed by the Surfrider Foundation and hinged on what constitutes development under the Coastal Act. Surfrider argued painting over a welcome sign, closing the gate to the sole access road, and hiring security guards to deter visitors ultimately altered the lands use and the Court agreed. The Court found that the two companies Khosla crated to manage the beach property had erred by not obtaining a coastal development permit before closing the coast to the public. In their unanimous 50-page opinion, the judges gave broad credence to the California Coastal Act and the Legislature’s intent of preserving access to the beach. The judges ordered Khosla to open the gates immediately in the ruling. The Court also ordered Khosla to pay Surfrider’s attorney costs, which totaled $485,000 when it was approved in 2015.

Khosla’s legal battle is far from over, as he can appeal to either the California or U.S. Supreme Court. Additionally, there are also other pending lawsuits over the beach between Khosla and government agencies – one of which includes the California States Lands Commissions, San Mateo County, and the Coastal Commission. A staunch advocate for private property rights, Khosla’s federal lawsuit against the government alleges that his constitutional rights are violated should he be forced to allow the public to visit his beachfront property. This week’s ruling will likely have an effect on this case, as the federal judge had said he first wants to review the appeals court’s ruling before making a decision in this case.