Facebook CEO and multi billionaire Mark Zuckerberg recently launched a number of lawsuits in Hawaii to acquire plots of land dotted around his 700 acre beachfront development on the island of Kauai. Using what many people saw as aggressive tactics the billionaire property investor began court action to “compel” hundreds of Hawaiians to sell plots of land which had been in their families for decades. As we covered in our recent article about the lawsuits in Hawaii, the court action appeared extremely well structured giving small plot owners very few options but to sell.
So, why is Mark Zuckerberg reconsidering his Hawaiian lawsuit?
Public perception is everything
When you are the high profile image of Facebook it is difficult to undertake any activity under cover of darkness and away from the mass media. As soon as the press got hold of the lawsuit story, impacting 8 acres within his 700 acre development, it became headline news. The fact that he acquired the property for $100 million just over two years ago without apparently knowing about the small plots of land dotted within his acreage is surprising.
The way this was reported in the mass media came across as a “David versus Goliath” story suggesting that many Hawaiian families, many of whom did not know about their acreage inheritance, would be forced to sell at any price. In reality they would likely have received a generous settlement in exchange for handing over their relatively small plots but this has not gone down well with the local community.
Reconsidering his position
Whether Mark Zuckerberg decided to reconsider his position because of the media coverage or indeed feedback from the local community, he is being seen to do the right thing. There are some families in Hawaii who may have welcomed a settlement but perhaps a more even sided arrangement can be put in place further down the line?
Commenting upon the change in direction the Facebook CEO said “We want to make sure we are following a process that protects the interests of property owners, respects the traditions of native Hawaiians and preserves the environment”. It is also worth noting that the so-called “quiet title actions” are relatively standard in Hawaii and rather bizarrely many of the title owners in question never even knew they owned any land!
Celebs and property investment
While Mark Zuckerberg’s property and legal team may have gone about their Hawaiian adventure the wrong way, upsetting the local community, he did invest $100 million in the island. The idea that individuals had the right to walk amongst his property development because of their plot location may be bizarre to many but to others it is tradition. We will never know whether Mark Zuckerberg called time on his court action because of a backlash in the mass media or whether indeed he was “doing the right thing”.
If anything this story perfectly highlights the fact that even billionaire real estate investors can succumb to the powers of local tradition. We can only assume that he was unaware of the situation when he invested $100 million otherwise why wait two years to try to rectify the situation?