By Jeff John Roberts
January 19, 2017

Facebook’s CEO is ruffling feathers in Hawaii with a series of lawsuits that seek to stamp out the claims of locals residents who still have an ownership right in a large tract of land he bought on the island of Kauai.

Mark Zuckerberg purchased the 700-acre parcel of rural beachfront property in 2014, but, owing to the quirks of traditional Hawaii culture and property law, he technically shares the title with hundreds of other people in the state. As the Honolulu Star Advertiser explains, the Kuleana Act of 1850 granted land ownership rights to native Hawaiians—rights that can descend to subsequent generations without the formal transfer of deeds or titles.

The upshot is that, even though none of these descendants are living on the 700 acre Kauai track, hundreds of them could still claim a right to enjoy parts of the land. In response, three companies controlled by Zuckerberg filed eight so-called “quiet title” lawsuits to extinguish those claims.

Under the legal process, Zuckerberg will pay compensation to the people he is suing—providing an unexpected windfall to many of them who may not even be aware they have the land rights in the first place. Still, as social media shows, the spectacle of a tech titan filing lawsuits against locals to claim their traditional land does not make for great optics:

A lawyer representing Zuckerberg, Keoni Shultz, issued a statement saying all co-owners of the land will be identified and receive fair value.

“It is common in Hawaii to have small parcels of land within the boundaries of a larger tract, and for the title to these smaller parcels to have become broken or clouded over time,” said Shultz’s statement.

Meanwhile, a person close to Zuckerberg who was not authorized to speak for attribution said the Facebook CEO would not impede access to the beaches (which are public under Hawaiian law in any case), and would permit access to the land for traditional use. On Thursday afternoon, Zuckerberg published a post on Facebook to address what he described as “misleading stories” about the Hawaii property.

As for the “quiet title” lawsuits, the defendants are entitled to challenge Zuckerberg’s claim to exclusive use of the estate, but the cost and bother of going to court may deter many of them from doing so. And since the Facebook CEO will likely pay fair market value, some may be glad to just receive the money.

The total value Zuckerberg will have to pay is unclear, but the Star Advertiser cites property tax records to describe a two acre parcel as valued at $1.15 million and another tiny parcel worth $350. It’s also unclear if Zuckerberg will permit any of the land to be used as park or create any public easements to the land in the future.

The quiet title lawsuits are not the first controversy over the Kauai property. Last year, an earlier fuss arose when Zuckerberg erected a wall on the property that obstructed views of the ocean.

Meanwhile, closer to Facebook’s headquarters in California, the CEO remains embroiled in another land battle—this one over another private Zuckerberg residence in Palo Alto.

“[His] plans to rebuild four homes around his own will form a “compound” and reduce the city’s housing stock, which violates zoning codes and ideal land use,” reported the Mercury News in September in a story about a Palo Alto zoning board meeting.

This story was updated at 5pm ET to include a link to Zuckerberg’s post.

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