In a story that the Facebook CEO wishes he could chalk up to fake news, Mark Zuckerberg is getting some well-deserved heat for filing lawsuits against dozens of native Hawaiian families, whose land interferes with his development plans for a $100-million property at Pila’a Beach, on Kauai’s North Shore.
“When Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg paid around $100 million for 700 acres of rural beachfront land on Kauai two years ago to create what Forbes Magazine described as a secluded family sanctuary, he actually acquired a not-so-secluded property,” reported the Honolulu Star Advertiser, who first broke the story. “Close to a dozen small parcels within Zuckerberg’s Kauai estate are owned by kama’aina families who have rights to traverse the billionaire’s otherwise private domain. Now the Facebook CEO is trying to enhance the seclusion of his property by filing several lawsuits aimed at forcing these families to sell their land at a public court auction to the highest bidder.”
Zuckerberg is no stranger to pissing off neighbors. Similar complaints were heard during Zuckerberg’s construction, with neighbors being asked to sign non-disclosure agreements and being subjected to an endless, massive construction effort.
“At first I was stoked that he bought that land,” says filmmaker Jess Bianchi, who grew up on Kauai (and whose new film, Given, tells the story of close childhood friend and neighbor, Aamion Goodwin and his family). “The way I saw it, 700 acres wouldn’t be sold off as 150 separate parcels, made into another Princeville [a much-opposed resort at Hanalei]. He gave a lot of money to charity. I thought, wow…maybe this guy is awesome. Maybe he’ll help fight Monsanto. Being a family man himself, you know? But instead, he moves in and acts just like the Evil Rich White Man taking from the Hawaiians. That is so gnarly. Zero respect. He is going to get blacklisted and have a hard time living there. Jesse Merle-Jones lives right across the street from Zuckerberg’s property. He watched the locals build the guy the biggest and longest lava rock wall. These guys [were] saying “that wall almost broke me.” It was the hardest job they ever had.”
Much of Zuckerberg’s legal efforts have been made in the name of his family’s privacy. The legal action he’s pursuing in Kauai is called “quiet title and partition” and “isn’t uncommon in Hawaii,” according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Yet even with an order from a judge and financial compensation, forcing people to sell land that has been in their families for generations can be off-putting — especially when it’s driven by the fifth-richest person in the world.”
To get a better sense for what’s going on in the community, we chatted with former Mayoral candidate and outspoken community organizer, Dustin Barca.
So all this is happening in your hometown, huh?
Yeah, that’s right where I grew up. I live about five minutes from there. Not even. Three minutes. It’s crazy, there’s this massive wall around the whole thing.
What was the area like before Zuckerberg purchased it?
It’s always been open, beautiful land. There were a few families who lived there, but it was this very secluded beach.
I know a lot of the families were offered ridiculous amounts of money. Like, $20 million. And a lot of them took it. I wouldn’t, because that land is priceless. And I mean that. It’s pristine.
It says something that there are so many families who didn’t take that payout. I mean, $20 million is a lot of money.
Yeah, a lot of my friends’ families owned some of the land that was sold off. They had no say in it, and they’re so pissed. They grew up there, you know? It’s one of the last great fishing grounds around here.
What was the community’s first reaction to him buying that land and building his place?
We didn’t really make any noise about it, because we thought, “Oh, that’s cool, he’s just going to build his own compound and coexist with the people who live on the neighboring land.” He wanted to build a wall, which was cool, but he wasn’t going to develop the whole place. So nobody said anything.
So what led to the lawsuit being filed?
He was trying to buy everyone out. There’s a lot of what we call “Kuleana Lands” [Hawaiian property acquired through the Kuleana Act of 1850] that’s been passed down from generations of Hawaiians. So what’s going on now is they couldn’t buy out some of that land because there are too many names involved, and it’s any of those family’s rights to go and camp or set up shop and hang out. They still own it by law. So since buying out all those families was so complicated, they’re just going to sue them out of their properties.
Which is a sheisty and probably a cheaper move than buying them out for $20 million.
Totally. It’s the most f–king low-level, classless move, pushing those families out of there.
It seems like this is going to be such a huge PR nightmare for Zuckerberg. It certainly won’t make his life easy over there.
He would have been welcomed with open arms if he had even tried to make a place for those families and to coexist with them. He would have been a hero around here.
With 700 acres, why not make some portion of it a preserved, public beach? It seems like there were countless positive gestures he could have made to the community.
And what’s crazy is, this is turning families against each other. One of my uncles, he lives on the land, and there’s no way he’s selling his property. He lives in a little motorhome, like his own little ranch, where he rides his old-school motorbikes and shoots his guns. And here comes a guy trying to buy him out, essentially saying “Get the f–k out of here.” My uncle was like, “Brah, f–k you. My land’s priceless.”
But his brother, Carlos Andrade, is working with Zuckerberg to try to get families to take the buyout. So it’s a lot deeper than just the surface, because these families are being torn apart over money. It’s f–ked up.
Money will do that to a community so quickly.
It’s like when someone passes away and the whole family goes into turmoil fighting for what’s left in a will. It’s the same kind of shit, just turning everyone against each other.
This is the reason Hawaiian people so often hate white people, you know? This has been going on for centuries. Since the Great Hawaiian Māhele, where people with money came in and overthrew titles. With social media today, they can point to these examples and say, “This is how they do it.”
So what are the families dealing with right now, with the lawsuit?
This only came out publicly a day ago, which gives people two days before the court case to actually claim their land. So people are on a witch hunt for anyone from these families to come claim their properties, which will hopefully be easier with social media. Otherwise, the land will be considered unclaimed. I’ve gotten a few people on my Instagram today writing, That’s our family! Are we going? It’s so cool.
So what’s being planned there to push back against Zuckerberg?
Right now, everyone’s just getting riled up. The beach down there is called Pila’a. I’m working on starting an Occupy Pila’a, where we get everyone to go down and camp on the beach there for a month. That beach is a public piece of land. They don’t own it. We’re all figuring out what we can do in response to this.