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Est. April 5, 2002
January 26, 2017 - Issue 683

Seven Hundred Acres
Not Enough for Zuckerberg
Hideaway In Hawaii


"He reportedly bought a 'waterfront property'
on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, for $100 million,
and then became perturbed by the ownership
of small parcels within his property by an untold
number of Hawaiians, whose parcels total
little more than eight acres.

The behavior of America’s individuals among the powers that be is sometimes erratic, sometimes idiosyncratic, and sometimes or often, expressive of the power of great wealth in the life of the nation.

Such is the move by Facebook founder and owner, billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. He reportedly bought a “waterfront property” on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, for $100 million, and then became perturbed by the ownership of small parcels within his property by an untold number of Hawaiians, whose parcels total little more than eight acres.

However, ownership of those small parcels goes back as far as the mid-19th Century and it will be no small effort to locate all of them and compensate them for the loss of their parcels. Zuckerberg wants to compensate them and he’s said he wants to be a good neighbor to those around his vacation property. When an ownership tradition, legal or otherwise, goes that far back, there are bound to be many descendants, whether it is on the mainland or on any of the islands of Hawaii.

At the end of December, Zuckerberg filed what are called “quiet title lawsuits,” against a number of owners of the small parcels. According to, “Quiet title lawsuits are also common when a party that purchased a parcel of property at a tax sale, sheriff’s sale or judicial sale attempts to resell the parcel. When a quiet title lawsuit is filed in a court that has jurisdiction to hear the case, the outcome will determine the party who will be established as the rightful owner, and will terminate, or quiet, the claims of ownership from all other parties.”

No one actually knows how many “owners” there are of the small parcels, because about seven or eight generations have passed since the land was granted to Hawaiians of the mid-19th Century. It is likely that many have no idea that they own a small piece of land that Zuckerberg wants for himself, alone. The idea of any of the great unwashed tramping across his land to reach their small parcels must be galling to the young billionaire.

To get an idea of what’s at stake, he owns 700 acres of what is considered by many to be the tropical paradise of the American landscape, Central Park in New York City covers an area of 843 acres, slightly larger than Zuckerberg’s piece of paradise, and was visited by some 40 million people in 2013. That, apparently, is what Zuckerberg is trying to avoid. He doesn’t want any visitors from among the (possible) hundreds of owners of the small parcels, even if they have the right to cross his land to get to theirs. He needs and demands his privacy. Population of Kauai was 67,091 in the 2010 census.

His lawsuits reportedly have given the small parcel owners 20 days to declare their ownership and receive what is considered by Zuckerberg their just compensation for their interests. Many do not know they are entitled to anything and will not respond and, therefore, will not receive any compensation.

Although it is not the same, that Zuckerberg’s lawsuits that aim to protect his privacy on his 700 acres, it is similar to the acquisition of black farmers’ land in the Deep South over a period of decades in the 20th Century. The county committees in the various states were, in effect, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) representatives in those counties. Many, if not most, of the committees were made up of white farmers and the land owned by black farmers and their descendants were ripe for the picking. In charge of parceling out farm loans, the county committees made sure that black farmers went to the back of the line for those loans. The end result, year after year, was that black farmers might get their loans approved at the time when their white counterparts’ crops already were half a foot high, a sure way to bankrupt black farmers. This routine effort to put them off the land worked and the land went (often) to nearby white farmers and was the subject of a civil rights lawsuit against the USDA and the county committees. The multi-billion-dollar lawsuits were successful to some degree, but many farmers and landowners who lost their land still have not been fully compensated.

One of the problems in that case was the migration of black workers and farmers to the north in the first half of the 20th Century, to find work in the industrialized north, leaving behind their interests in the land that had been passed down in their families. One of the tricks that was employed by those who wanted black families’ land was to find someone in Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, or other cities and convince that person to sell his or her share of the family farm or property (called heirs’ property). As a result, the farm or land would be partitioned for sale, so the individual could realize his or her share of the land.

There are other ways black farmers and their families could lose their farms and land, but this was one of ways, other than direct sale after bankruptcy. Otherwise, after generations, the land would belong to an ever-increasing number of heirs who might have had no connection to the land and may have been a generation or two removed from it. By that process, the 20 million acres acquired by black farmers between the end of the Civil War and 1920, was whittled down to a fraction of that total and, as Gary Grant, president of Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFFA) has said, “A landless people is a powerless people.”

And, what is the purpose of Zuckerberg’s lawsuits? He has said that he wants to protect the land and the environment, in general, and wants to be a good neighbor. However, it is very unlikely that he would very often run into the small parcel owners on 700 acres, no matter how often he hiked his land or how far he hiked. Seven hundred acres is a very big piece of land, as anyone who has attempted to walk the perimeter of Central Park two times knows. That reduces the likely reason to one: he wants to know that the entire piece is his and no one will be found treading on his ground without permission. That should be easy for a multi-billionaire, as it would only take a small army of gamekeepers.

The minds of the very rich (even new rich) work in strange ways. They make their money providing a small product or service to the masses, but they don’t want those same masses to muck up their property. They want to get away from those whose dollars they accepted. As in days of old, the larger the land base, the more powerful is the owner. Ted Turner, creator and founder of CNN and also very rich, has been quoted as saying that he would like to ride his horse from Canada to Mexico exclusively on his own land. That’s quite an ambition and he is reportedly nearly able to do that. An ambition like this is not what Zuckerberg has articulated. Apparently, he just wants to get those pesky commoners off his beachfront. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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