[UPDATED] Mark Zuckerberg buys big chunk of Hawaii, builds wall and angers locals
Updated (01/28/17): Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg drops case to acquire Hawaiian land.
You can read our original story here:
A few years ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife went on vacation to the beautiful Hawaiian island of Kauai. Like many before him, he fell in love with the place.
Zuckerberg then reportedly spent $100 million to purchase 700 acres of land.
Kaniela Ing is a Hawaii State Representative. He spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. Here is part of their conversation.
Helen Mann: Mr. Ing, I understand that you have just gotten back from taking a look at Mr. Zuckerberg's new property. What's it like?
Kaniela Ing: It's a gorgeous, enormous chunk of land. There's like a six-foot wall surrounding the property to not allow locals to walk through it. But other than that, it's breathtaking.
KI: He purchased the property in 2014. I believe he brought family over to visit last year, in the holidays. But I'm not sure how exactly often he's there. That seems to be the crux of the problem really.
HM: Why is that of issue to you?
KI: Well the larger issue — all legal nuances aside, who really needs 700 acres? It just seems sort of excessive, no matter how much money you make. Especially when you're talking about an island community. That's going to be very disruptive to your neighbours. The least you can do is go into the community, explain to your neighbours what your intentions are and Mr. Zuckerberg did none of that. The first communication that a lot of the folks that own the Kuleana parcels received was a letter stating that they've been sued.
"Sugar barons used the same legal mechanism... Zuckerberg is using today to displace thousands of Hawaiian families from their ancestral lands...He really needs to be more cognizant of that history.- Kaniela Ing, Hawaii State Representative
KI: Hawaii used to be under the reign of an actual oligarchy, where five missionary families controlled our economy, through sugar, and our government. Some argue that's still the case. But these sugar barons used the same legal mechanism that Mark Zuckerberg is using today to displace thousands of Hawaiian families from their ancestral lands. Regardless of whether his intentions are good or bad, he really needs to be more cognizant of that history.
HM: Mr. Zuckerberg says, as you know, that this is a good faith effort on his part to find owners of parts of his land. He is suggesting that they may not even know that they own some of the land that he is trying to purchase and he just wants to properly compensate them. How do you respond to that?
KI: There are ways to identify owners of the land without suing them. There are lots of wealthy land owners that buy large parcels of land and allow Kuleana land holders to still own their trusts and walk through, practice traditional fishing or gathering rights. That happens all the time. The only reason why somebody would initiate a quiet title action would be to make sure that local people aren't walking through his property — that he had complete unfettered private access. That seems a little unreasonable when you're talking about 700 acres. These people aren't paparazzi. They don't want to disrupt him at home. They just want to get to the beach.
HM: One of Mr. Zuckerberg's neighbours, quoted in the Guardian, is saying that they think the purchase of the land is actually not that bad, relative to the potential of somebody building a giant housing development. So is this maybe a good thing?
KI: Yes, absolutely. I think if Mr. Zuckerberg really has the intentions that he's claiming to have, and wants to respect the Native Hawaiian culture and protect the environment, then we should welcome those efforts. But he needs to back up those words with some action. First thing he could do is actually drop the lawsuits. Secondly, he can donate to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation who has been the sole defender of these Hawaiian families against quiet title for decades now to show his commitment. Third, to actually enter the community, hold some town hall meetings, maybe sit on the table with lawyers, public officials and the families who are affected by his purchase. He hasn't done any of those three things. So while we welcome his newfound openness to talk and his statement of aloha — we need to stand guard until actions follow those words.
HM: So Mr. Zuckerberg, just to be clear, has said, "based on feedback from the local community we are reconsidering the quiet title process and discussing how to move forward." So you're still a bit skeptical?
KI: Well, when Mr. Zuckerberg says — "we are discussing how to move forward" — who is "we?"
HM: Some people on the islands have said that his actions are tantamount to neo-colonialism — do you go that far?
KI: Oh, I have gone that far ... It used to be 23,000 acres, and little by little, it's down to just a few thousand. So when you see a billionaire with the best attorneys in the world, the best public relations firm in the world, coming in and talking slick and suing hundreds of locals you get worried. It's really outside money tilting the scales of justice here in Hawaii.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Kaniela Ing.