Hawaii bill compels mediation for Zuckerberg-type land deals

AP News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2017 5:55 PM
Hawaii bill compels mediation for Zuckerberg-type land deals

HONOLULU (AP) — A Hawaii lawmaker said Friday he plans to introduce legislation that could force Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg into mediation before he is allowed to buy real estate on Kauai island.

State Rep. Kaniela Ing said Hawaii's sugar barons long employed laws Zuckerberg is using to take land from Native Hawaiians. He said Zuckerberg is "completing the theft."

"Zuckerberg may be acting more transparent than folks who exploited this law in the past, but it doesn't make it right," Ing said. "I just hope he understands the context of his actions in the history of our state."

Zuckerberg last month filed lawsuits to identify owners of 14 parcels interspersed with his 700-acre spread hugging a stunning white-sand beach so he could pay them and buy the land.

Ownership of the small lots could be split between hundreds of people — many of them unidentified.

If passed, Ing's bill would likely take effect July 1. It would apply to Zuckerberg's cases if they are still ongoing.

Ing, a Democrat who represents the southern part of Maui island, said Zuckerberg should enter mediation regardless of the legislation. He said he hopes Zuckerberg will do so if enough people in Hawaii echo this sentiment.

A Zuckerberg spokesman did not immediately return email and phone messages seeking comment.

The bill would allow a parcel's shareholders to band together in a group in mediation against the person seeking to buy the land. He said this would give people with rights to the land more bargaining power as a group against wealthy landowners like Zuckerberg.

Ing said he also wants to lessen the burden on families facing potentially costly land rights legal battles.

"If you're a working class local family and you get sued by sixth richest man in the world, that's going to cause you a lot of stress. You're going to spend money on a lawyer no matter how expensive it is. That's the problem," he said.

Ing said he also plans to introduce legislation that would require that people must own at least a 50 percent share in a property before they can launch a legal case seeking to establish other owners and potentially buy them out.

He said the Zuckerberg case brought attention to the ongoing situation of the so-called kuleana lands, which are small parcels awarded to Native Hawaiian commoners when the Kingdom of Hawaii established private property rights in the mid-19th century.

He said lawmakers have not discussed the issue for decades, and Native Hawaiians have lost land on every island as a result.

In the 1800s, Hawaii's King Kamehameha III intended for the land reforms to divide property equally among the monarch, other royals and the commoners who fished and farmed the land. Only about 28,000 acres went to commoners in the end. Millions went to the king, government and royals.

Today, much of Hawaii's land is controlled by large landowners and federal, state and local governments.

Zuckerberg's property was once part of a sugar plantation called Kilauea Sugar Co., which stopped operating in 1971. He bought the estate in 2014 for $100 million, Forbes has reported.

King Kamehameha IV sold the original 3,000-acre ahupuaa, or traditional Hawaiian land division, of Kilauea to an American businessman, Charles Titcomb, for $2,600 in 1863, according to the Kilauea Neighborhood Association's website.