LARRY THE INTERNET GUY
It’s not every week that one guy buys 98 percent of an island, but then again, Larry Ellison isn’t merely one guy.
News of the sale of Lanai (pop. 3,102, as of the 2010 census) broke on the afternoon of June 20 when the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published a story based on documents filed with the state Public Utilities Commission. The fact that David Murdock–the billionaire who (through Castle & Cooke) previously owned Lanai–was reportedly losing between “$20 million and $30 million” each year on the island means Ellison has a major job ahead of him.
Now you tech people out there already know this, but Ellison is a fascinating person. He helped found Oracle, one of the world’s most powerful hardware and software firms–if the entire Internet were a human being, Oracle would be the spine. He’s also, to use a vulgarism, a baller: the guy flies jets, races sailboats, collected four ex-wives and earlier this year attempted (without success) to buy the Memphis Grizzlies. Oh, and he’s worth $36 billion (#6 on the Forbes list of billionaires).
To no one’s surprise, local officials across the state wasted no time ingratiating themselves to Ellison.
“It is my understanding that Mr. Ellison has had a long standing interest in Lanai,” said Governor Neil Abercrombie. “His passion for nature, particularly the ocean, is well known specifically in the realm of America’s Cup sailing. He is also a businessman whose record of community involvement in medical research and education causes is equally notable. We look forward to welcoming Mr. Ellison in the near future.”
Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa was a bit more reserved. He said that while it was “an honor and a privilege” to work with Murdock, “we look forward to meeting Mr. Larry Ellison and hope that by working together with him and the state that we may be able to do good things for Lanai and its people.”
Well, state Senator J. Kalani English–whose district encompasses Lanai–apparently got to speak to one of Ellison’s minions, and that seems to have been enough to convince him that the sale is the best of news for the island.
“To the people of Lana‘i this transfer of ownership is much more than a business transaction,” said English. “It is the livelihood of a community and of an island. As such it remains imperative that cultural and conservational values be maintained. After speaking with Ellison’s personal representative, I feel that he shares this same belief. And I look forward to meeting with him in the future, so that I can develop a better understanding of his vision. It is my hope that this new ownership is one which works with the community to foster a healthy and vibrant Lanai.”
That all sounds wonderful, except that right now a very vocal portion of Lanai’s community (call them Lanai’s “two percent,” if you like) really, really hate Murdock’s big plan to build a lot of big windmills and then send the juice they generate through a big undersea cable to Oahu. Seriously, they’re pulling their hair out of their own heads in frustration over how the windmills will allegedly wreck the island’s aesthetics, and Ellison’s Lanai Island Holdings, LLC (the entity that now owns the island) have already said that the whole windmill/undersea cable thing is still very much a GO (Ellison has also said he’s not changing, at least at this time, anything over at Lanai’s two resorts).
More importantly, I think I speak for everyone when I ask, What about old Club Lanai? Does Ellison have any plans to bring that back? They had snorkeling, palm trees, a lagoon, a buffet and hammocks made for two. The dilapidated huts are all still there, just waiting for a billionaire with too much money on his hands to come in and clean up the joint.
Come on! If anything can end the misery and bring everyone together, it’s Club Lanai.
Every now and then, I get reminded of the cold fact that in the United States of America, those in positions of power (elected officials, industrialists, land developers, etc.) see us normal people as nothing more than “consumers.” That’s all we are to them: drones who spend their lives buying ever-more sophisticated goods and services. Our economy depends on that characterization. If we stop consuming, then they stop producing and pretty soon Lenin is in charge (or something similarly apocalyptic).
I can’t find any other way to explain the contempt that lobbyist (sorry: “liaison for the projects”) Charlie Jencks seemed to exude in the June 21 Maui News story “Groups dig in against mega malls in S. Maui.”
A growing coalition of people (led by groups like Maui Tomorrow, who are threatening a lawsuit) in South Maui hate the idea that Irvine-based Eclipse Development Group is planning on building a 300,000-square foot shopping center on 30 acres and another 450,000-square foot “retail complex” on 68 acres just mauka of Piilani Highway at Kaonoulu Street in Kihei.
They look at documents like the Kihei Community Plan and don’t see anything like that kind of development anywhere in South Maui (the land is currently zoned “light industrial”), and they get scared about all the noise, traffic and pollution such a project will bring (state Senator Roz Baker has already written a semi-nasty letter to the state Land Use Commission asking them to stop the project because it violates the Kihei Community Plan). But old Charlie “Wailea 670” Jencks, who is shepherding the Eclipse projects through the state and county permitting projects, just wants us to all get along and support the deal.
“A lot of positive things will happen with this project that will benefit the community,” Jencks said in The Maui News article. “The community plans describe ‘desirable’ uses within light industrial districts. When you get down to the project level, then you defer to the zoning, where permitted uses are defined. The plan is a policy document that indicates generally where a community wants to go, and it changes over time.”
It’s all so simple: community plans change when rich land developers want them to change. And since we’re all just consumers anyway, and the mega-malls will lead to “positive things”–many more places to buy goods and services–why all the fuss?
Of course, if I’m right that people are more than mere consumers, then Jencks will really have to earn his pay on this one.
About Anthony Pignataro
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He started work as MauiTime's Editor in 2003, took a couple years off starting in 2008, then returned to the staff in 2011. He's the author of "Stealing Cars With The Pros," a 2013 collection of his journalism and the Maui novels "Small Island" (2011) and "The Dead Season" (2012)–all of which were published by Event Horizon Press. In 2014, his one-act play "War Stories" won second place in the Maui Fringe Festival.