Behind Mark Zuckerberg's legal fight for a chunk of paradise

Proposed legislation in Hawaii is taking aim at Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg over his purchase of a huge spread on the island of Kauai. Some Hawaiians say they have a legal and moral claim to the land, tracing their ancestry and connection to the place back generations.

The 700 acres rising above a long sand beach on the coastline of Kauai looked so good to Mark Zuckerberg that he reportedly paid $100 million for it. 

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CBS News

On Facebook he posted pictures of his family visiting the property over the Christmas holiday, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.

But it’s a piece of paradise Terra Kimura and other members of her extended family claim as part of their heritage.

“I grew up here I used to go down to the beach and fish,” Kimura said.
 
She said a distant relative, a plantation worker named Manuel Rapozo, bought part of the land now owned by Zuckerberg. Rapozo reportedly purchased it in the 1800s, and according to Kimura, he never sold it. 

“Thus giving us as his descendants the rights to that land. And we’re excited to be able to have an opportunity to fight for that,” Kimura said.

“To fight to keep the land or to fight to get a lot of money?” Blackstone asked.

“Keep the land,” she said. “No money.” 

But under Hawaiian property law, every one of Rapozo’s many descendants owns a piece of property. 

State representative Kaniela Ing said the law creates a challenge for many Hawaiian families.

“So over generations, you have like 500 people that have to divide an eight-acre plot,” Ing said. 

With help from genealogists, Zuckerberg’s representatives searched for everyone who might have a claim on the land. In a statement last week Zuckerberg said: “We worked with majority owners of each property and reached a deal they thought was fair.” Some descendants didn’t even realize they were part of the family.

“I was actually offered 500 dollars for my share. 500 dollars. No money can buy -- it’s priceless, I’m sorry,” Joddie Taylor said.

“But you didn’t even know you owned it,” Blackstone said.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s in my family,” Taylor said. “And now I know my family, and you can’t take that away from me.”

Late last month Zuckerberg filed eight lawsuits that could allow him to claim all the outstanding land in question. At Zuckerberg’s front gate, the “no trespassing” sign alone offends those who say part of this land is theirs. But they understand why he covets it. After all it has a view fit for a billionaire.

Now Zuckerberg may be changing his mind about forcing the families to sell. In a statement late Wednesday, he said: “We are reconsidering … 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.”

“The bigger issue is, who really needs 700 acres? That’s a big chunk of our island. Of paradise here,” Ing said. 

Representative Ing welcomed Zuckerberg’s statement but told CBS News he has a duty to stand guard until the last lawsuit is dropped. Ing has also introduced legislation here in Hawaii that would make it easier for families to fight lawsuits like those filed by the Facebook billionaire.