HONOLULU (CN) – A Hawaii lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would force Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to mediate his quiet title lawsuits against landowners on the island of Kauai.
A dozen so-called “kuleana” lots exist within the 700-acre property Zuckerberg purchased in 2014, each falling to hundreds of descendants of commoners originally awarded the land in the Kuleana Act of 1850 – many of whom are unaware they own a share of the property.
While Zuckerberg says his quiet title lawsuits are meant only to identify those people so that he can buy them out, a quirk in Hawaii law requires them to agree on the disposition of the land. Otherwise, a judge can put the land up for auction.
On his Facebook page, state Rep. Kaniela Ing, D-Maui, likened Zuckerberg’s actions to those of sugar barons who used native Hawaiians’ unfamiliarity with the concept of land ownership to dispossess them, and accused Zuckerberg of “completing the theft.”
For more than a thousand years, Hawaiians lived in a society shaped as much by natural forces as by politics or their ali’i, a term that refers to the hereditary line of rulers. Ahupua’a, wedge-shaped land divisions running from the mountains to the sea and bounded by natural watersheds, divided resources among the inhabitants.
The Kapu, or taboo, system, placed restrictions on fishing, harvesting and social interaction to insure sustainable harvests.
Under pressure from corporate interests, Kamehameha III proposed the Great Mahele, which sought to redistribute land among native Hawaiians while also opening ownership up to foreign entities.
Many native Hawaiians did not understand the need to claim land that they had lived on their whole lives. Others found the steps for obtaining land onerous. In the end, only 18,000 kuleana plots were claimed by a population of 82,000. Meanwhile, approximately one-third of Hawaii was claimed as crown lands, another third as government.
King Kamehameha IV sold the original 3,000-acre ahupua’a of Kilauea which Zuckerberg now owns a part of to an American businessman, Charles Titcomb, for $2,600 in 1863. Titcomb sold the property to owners of a sugar plantation called Kilauea Sugar Company, which remained in operation until 1971.
Recently, portions of the property were owned by notorious tenant James Pfleuger, who triggered a mudslide on Zuckerberg’s Pila’a Beach property that damaged the reef. Pfleuger also caused a dam to collapse on an adjacent property, killing seven people, for which he was convicted of reckless endangerment. He sold the property to Zuckerberg on the eve of foreclosure.
Thus far the only improvement to the land – two lots for which Zuckerberg paid in the neighborhood of $100 million – is the installation of a long, six-foot wall that residents say obscures their view of the ocean and blocks cooling breezes.
Zuckerberg used his Facebook page to defend the lawsuits, saying, “Remember this land was about to be purchased by a corporate developer and sub-divided into 100 commercial units when we stepped in to acquire it and preserve the land instead. The folks who live on the land and the majority owners chose to sell their land to us. That was their decision.”
One kuleana property owner, Carlos Andrade, filed to locate relatives. Like Andrade, Rep. Ing would appear to be in a race against time in his quest to mandate mediation. Quiet title defendants have 20 days to respond to suits. The eight suits were filed through three proxy companies – seemingly set up for the purpose – on Dec. 30.
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