Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire CEO of Facebook, announced Friday that he was dropping a set of lawsuits that sought to force hundreds of Hawaiians to sell him small plots of land strewn across his 700-acre beachfront property on the island of Kauai.
Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, calling the lawsuits "a mistake," revealed their decision in a column published online in The Garden Island News, a newspaper on Kauai. The move came less than two weeks after the lawsuits were publicly revealed, generating a flurry of media coverage, and a day after a report that hundreds of protesters planned to march on Saturday along a controversial six-foot wall Zuckerberg built along part of the land last year.
The so-called quiet title suits related to a dozen plots of "kuleana" land covering a total of about eight acres.
The plots were originally granted to native Hawaiians in the mid-1800s, and in many cases the current ownership stakes of their descendants, or of the descendants of subsequent owners, are minuscule. Many people may not know they have title to the property, and in some cases, it was not clear if there are any living owners.
However, owners are entitled to cross Zuckerberg's secluded beachfront property — which he bought for $100 million two years ago — to get access to their own land.
Zuckerberg had said no one would be forced off of their land, and at least one owner of the land was backing his suit. But if individual owners did not respond to the suits, a court could have ordered the auction of their stakes in the property to the highest bidder.
The backlash over the suits led Zuckerberg this past Tuesday to say he was "reconsidering the suits."
On Friday, he and Chan wrote, "We've heard from many in the community and learned more about the cultural and historical significance of this land."
"Over the past week, we've spoken with community leaders and shared that our intention is to achieve an outcome that preserves the environment, respects local traditions, and is fair to those with kuleana lands," the couple wrote.
"To find a better path forward, we are dropping our quiet title actions and will work together with the community on a new approach," Zuckerberg and Chan wrote. "We understand that for native Hawaiians, kuleana are sacred and the quiet title process can be difficult. We want to make this right, talk with the community, and find a better approach.
They also wrote, "Upon reflection, I regret that I did not take the time to fully understand the quiet title process and its history before we moved ahead. Now that I understand the issues better, it's clear we made a mistake.
"The right path is to sit down and discuss how to best move forward," he and Chan wrote. "We will continue to speak with community leaders that represent different groups, including native Hawaiians and environmentalists, to find the best path."
"We love Kaua'i and we want to be good members of the community for the long term. Thank you for welcoming our family into your community."