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Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Land auction prompts
THE founder of California-based software company McAfee Inc. says he is "befuddled" by the reaction of what he believes to be a vocal minority on Molokai to his plan to sell more than 1,000 acres on the Friendly Isle.
An advertisement for the property ran in the Wall Street Journal in January, touting the site as "John McAfee's Historic Oceanfront Plantation" and promoting its development potential.
"That property has sold a half-dozen times. Every time it has sold, the ads are always the same (and mention) 'development opportunities,'" McAfee said. "I'm not trying to put up a 12-story resort or a Las Vegas-style casino."
McAfee said he thinks he knows the real root of the discontent. About six months ago, he purchased a multipage antidrug ad in a local paper. It pictured streets where dealers are known to sell crystal methamphetamine from drug houses, near where children play, and next door to churches, schools and playgrounds. It concluded, "If you live on any of these streets, why are you allowing this to happen?"
"It is a severe problem," McAfee said, but added, "I angered the entire community."
Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte Jr. set up last night's meeting through Hui Hoopakele Aina, a group founded in the 1980s during water rights disputes. It claimed victory two years ago in getting cruise lines to abandon plans for visits to Molokai.
"First of all we were responding to the big groundswell happening" to "figure out why so many people were upset with Mr. McAfee," Ritte said.
Ritte dismissed the notion that the antidrug ad was responsible for the furor.
When McAfee arrived on Molokai a few years ago, he became a new best friend, donating computers to schools and buying gifts for other organizations and individuals, Ritte said. "And then all of a sudden ... he's selling the thousand acres he bought," said Ritte.
The use of words such as "subdividing" and "great for development," "I think it pressed a lot of buttons," Ritte said.
Real estate agent Stephanie Coble, of Kaluakoi Properties on Molokai, said she believes the auction has been blown out of proportion, considering how unlikely it is that a huge development would be approved on the agriculturally zoned parcel, which has no water or sewers. "The thought of even getting it through Maui County would be absurd," Coble said.
The land is primarily suitable for homes, not for high-rise hotels or a golf course, McAfee said.
However, land ownership and determining what happens on that land is foundational in many indigenous cultures, as it is for Hawaiians.
"It is pure and simple speculation. He's only owned it a short period of time," Ritte said.
McAfee said he is selling the parcel because he's 60 now and would be 90 before he could do anything with it. Separately, he is building and remodeling two family homes on the east and west ends of Molokai and has no plans to sell those.
Ritte said he wants the rest of the state to understand "the backdrop of what is happening on Molokai."
"We have had a huge influx of outsiders, all these new people."
Ritte and others who spoke at the meeting Monday night discussed how the island's slow-paced lifestyle is changing.
It was observed that the ad in the Wall Street Journal put Molokai on the map, which Ritte said upset a woman at the meeting. She wondered aloud who gave McAfee permission to put Molokai on the map, when its residents prefer to stay low-key.
McAfee said he expects to have "a thousand people carrying picket signs" for the auction, which will take place on the property. He does not expect the protesters to dampen the auction.
"The type of people who will be bidding on this property will probably enjoy the diversion," McAfee said.
Ritte said his "goal ... is to drive down the price." As for the bidders present, "at least they'll know what they're getting into. It's going to cost them a whole bunch. We've done that since the 60s. That's what we know how to do."
The two plan to meet before the auction and McAfee may attend a community meeting as well.