In the wake of a closely watched kuleana land auction on Kauaʻi last week, one faction of the family caught up in the property dispute is calling for change. A core group of Rapozo family members is demanding new policies and protections for kuleana landowners.
For Wayne Rapozo, the idea of bidding $700,000 for land that his family legally owned and stewarded for more than a hundred years was daunting and humiliating. But he felt it necessary not to relinquish partial ownership of the land without a fight.
“This is turning into a watershed case over kuleana,” says Rapozo.
He is one of more than a hundred descendants with ancestral claims to four kuleana land parcels on Kauaʻi’s North Shore. The land lies within Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerbergʻs 700-acre estate in Pīlaʻa.
While kuleana land disputes are typically settled by one owner buying out the others, Rapozo and a core group of holdouts have refused to sell their ownership interests.
“I’m hoping this will lead to public policymakers and legal practitioners and real estate professionals taking a hard look at not just the law, but the way people practically behave and deal with the adverse consequences that are often ignored,” says Rapozo.
The auction was the result of a two-year quiet title lawsuit brought on by Rapozo’s distant cousin Carlos Andrade. To gain sole ownership of the family’s 2.25 acres of kuleana land, Andrade sued descendants of his grandfather Manuel Rapozo, the original kuleana land owner.
“We didn’t do anything wrong. We didn’t ask for any hardship,” says Rapozo, “The only thing wrong is we resisted actually selling.”
Initially, it was Zuckerberg who filed a quiet title lawsuit against kuleana landowners including the Rapozos to clear title to his newly acquired property. He dropped the lawsuit after a public outcry. However, new allegations of deceit and threats used against the Rapozos by Northshore Kalo, a Zuckerberg-controlled corporation, is the subject of another lawsuit filed last week.
“There are no other laws and no other civic or cultural norms that restrain someone who wants to be really aggressive in terms of the behaviors that people engage in to facilitate the purchase of the property,” says Rapozo.
An attorney for Northshore Kalo denied these claims. Rapozo is calling for an investigation into the allegations and a discussion on best practices in dealing with kuleana landowners.
“I think in Hawaiʻi, a major company should have protocol and policy on cultural and kuleana matters – here are 10 points that are guiding principles that we will abide by in engaging with kuleana families to actually have people feel like they count and they matter and prevent this ugly conflict that weʻve been living for the past two years.
The conflict continues with a court hearing to approve the auction results, at which time all four parcels could be open to re-bidding.