“I don’t want to exaggerate,” Firestein says, “but it really is an apartheid experience.”
Lorum ipsum declarorium et proin vell Men in Kampala check their paperwork—visas, contracts, yellow fever vaccination documents, and flight tickets—before shipping out to Iraq with Saracen International
brownshirt basically comes over and says, ‘You can’t sit there.’ And there was literally no one else near the pool because it was kind of drizzling. It was just bizarre.”
Firestein writes dialogue for a living. Standing by the empty chaises longues, he didn’t hold back. “I said to them, ‘You know, this is weirdly like Jim Crow. You’re telling us we can eat here and not here, and there’s no one else around?’ ”
He didn’t stay the full week. Another family the Firesteins had rendezvoused with there—visitors, he notes pointedly, from South Africa—also left early.
says Karen Witesman, who bought her Hualalai condo in 2013. “And then Dell and this group are telling us what to do. And it goes against the grain of who we are. We’re so big and so wealthy, and we’re still working with that little contract.”
When discussing the possibility of a lawsuit, the homeowners knew they had a problem. How could they fight an ownership agreement they’d all signed that in several places explicitly allows the resort to charge whatever guest fees it wants? The answer came from their attorney, Terrance Revere, who crafted a suit that’s an unfair competition case rather than a contract case. By setting up such steep resort access fees for guests and renters, he argued, Hualalai was essentially trying to edge out competition for renters. For proof, he said, look no further than when, in 2014, Dell’s group made the Four Seasons the manager not only of the hotel but of the entire resort—the equivalent of placing the fox in direct supervision of the henhouse. Who benefits when the Four Seasons-managed resort raises renters’ fees? The Four Seasons-managed hotel, of course. “If too many warm bodies at the resort are a problem there,” Revere says, “why aren’t they imposing the same fees on hotel guests?” In court papers, and to me, the homeowners who support the lawsuit accuse the ownership of a hidden agenda—almost a conspiracy. They wonder if the falloff from the 2008 crash, the need for emergency repairs after a 2011 tsunami, and an ill-fated investment that Dell made next door in Kona Village (still not reopened after the tsunami all but flattened it) kept him from expanding Hualalai’s amenities fast enough to keep pace with its growing popularity. They have no access to the resort’s finances. But the big tell, they believe, was that in 2013, Bloomberg reported that Dell’s group restructured a $ 176 million loan. Apparently seeking more cash, the resort plans to develop more than 100 more homes on the property; it has the legal right to build even more. The only way that density can work, it seems, would be to discourage the homeowners from using their places so often. Could that be the entire reason for the crackdown on renters and house guests? If that were so— and only a lawsuit could shake loose the truth—it would mean that the homeowners were nothing but scapegoats for what Zyga claims is the resort’s deeper financial problem.
The lawyer representing the defendant group denies everything about this hidden-agenda agenda, as well as the unfair competition argument. “To prove unfair competition, they have to prove the policy was made in bad faith,” says attorney William Meheula. “That’s going to be hard for them to prove, given the club documents they signed. And these are sophisticated people.”
“One of the things we’ve always believed is trying to protect and preserve the experience for members and guests here,” says Patrick Fitzgerald, president of Hualalai Resorts, who’s managed the property since before the Dell group bought it. On a perfect sunny afternoon like any other, he takes me on a tour past the lagoon, the Tranquility Pool, the lots scheduled for development. He readily acknowledges that the policies have a way of correcting an imbalance in the renter market. “People told me, ‘ This is kind of easy for someone who otherwise would not stay at the hotel.’ As an example, if I’m paying $1,600 a night to rent a three-bedroom unit, and it costs $1,000 a night for a hotel room, the economics are very simple.”
Still, says Fitzgerald, a tall, athleticlooking man originally from Queens, N.Y., the fees weren’t meant so much to knock out competition as to create a little congestion pricing. “The hotel has always been full at Christmas,” he says. “But then it got to where you couldn’t get a reservation for dinner at seven o’clock. Renters are great people. But we have to make sure we protect our hierarchy of the Hualalai experience for our residents, members, and guests.”
To prove that most homeowners approve of the new fee schedule, Fitzgerald lined up a meeting with three members of the Hualalai Members Advisory Board, a group of homeowners brought in by management to consult on such matters as the guest fees. The next day—also sunny, also perfect—three board members await me in the sheltered porch of the Hualalai Trading Company, the resort’s general store, which sells heated malasadas, an addictive, sugarcoated fried-dough confection popular from Hawaii’s days of sugarcane plantations. All three homeowners love the new rules. All three can’t stand renters.
“The pool had been a major problem,” says Mike Sack, who bought in 2004 with his partner, suspense novelist John Saul. “I’ve been down to the pool, and someone has reserved five chaises, and that’s a problem for me.”
“It had gotten more and more abusive,” says Julie Wrigley, the widow of gum magnate William Wrigley III. She’s bright-eyed, with a short brunette sweep hairdo. Since the $250 policy went into effect, she says, there’s been less crowding. “It’s been the first time that that has worked. Same thing for the restaurants. And getting a spa appointment.”
“Somebody did a down- and- dirty analysis of what we pay as owners here vs. the $250 renters are charged,” says Susan Frampton, whose husband, Harry, is a major developer of ski resorts in Vail, Colo., and elsewhere. “And every day of the year, whether we’re here or not, I pay $128.50. So how come renters, with no payback into the system, no ultimate responsibility for depreciation, were getting in free? Something had to be done.”
They’ve all heard the argument that the fees are going to destroy property values. “When the lawsuit gets settled,” Wrigley says, “they’ll sell their houses.” Besides, resale value matters only to certain people. “This place isn’t right fo for everybody and doesn’t need to be a all things to all people,” she says.
Wrigley socializes with Dell and of W Walton. ours,” “she The says. Waltons “Once are in a best while friendswe’ll a o ask a question, and Rob will say, ‘You k know, we’re not the managing investor.’ But in B investorsthe nice and thing long-termis, they thinkers.”are long-termShe has o h owned less propertykind words here for since Zyda. 2001, “While he’d he not lived amongst us. He doesn’t know us. It’s kind of hard to start a lawsuit just after your home is done.”
Zyda’s hardly a lone wolf, I say. He has more than 70 potential co-plaintiffs.
“No one’s sued before,” Sack says dryly.
I ask the group: What would you say if I were a homeowner sitting on this porch, and I said these new fees make it impossible for me to afford living here?
Wrigley answers. “Please,” she says. “There are so many opportunities up and down this coast to own that have a policy that might be more friendly. But it’s not why some of us bought here.”
Zyda doesn’t go to the Hualalai restaurants anymore. When he’s on the island, he tends to cook. If he’s hosting friends, he makes sure to go with them everywhere. “All I keep thinking to myself is, there is someone in the chain of command at the hotel who just does not have a clue about marketing,” he says. “I worked at the Walt Disney Co. for 10 years before I went to Amazon. You have 300 homeowners who are wealthy who are at this place and think it’s special. They all know other people who are potential purchasers here. And all of our friends possibly stay at the Four Seasons from time to time. Why would you want to alienate that group of potential customers?”
It’s unclear how likely Zyda’s suit is to be granted class-action status—or even if the judge will buy into the unfair competition argument. Meanwhile, the effects of the lawsuit on the market are uncertain. Sales were strong in the first quarter: eight residences and three development lots. But by many accounts, the rental market has all but evaporated. One homeowner, Carol Meyer, says her home generated a half-million dollars in rental income in 2014 and 2015. This year she can’t get anyone to rent.
The Hualalai management is putting on a brave face. “Some of the members feel like, ‘Wow, have you lost some of your aloha spirit?’ ” Fitzgerald says. “And our perspective is, we don’t think we have.
In the fall of 2011, Tom Spalding, a slim geologist with saltand-pepper hair, stood before the board of directors of Pioneer Natural Resources, an oil and gas exploration company, to make a presentation unlike any he’d made in his 14 years there.
Using two flatscreens in Pioneer’s suburban Dallas boardroom, Spalding, the company’s vice president for geoscience, walked directors through the results of months of research. He and his team had explored for undiscovered oil in horizontal shales deep within the Permian Basin, a vast rock formation beneath West Texas. They had analyzed seismic data and core samples of 7,000 company wells as well as information on decades- old wells archived at the University of Texas. “When we first did it, we couldn’t believe it,” Spalding recalls. “We had to go back to check our measurements.”
He showed the board a schematic of 13 slabs stacked one atop another like something out of a Frank Gehry sketchbook. Almost every tier was splashed in bright red, signifying the presence of crude. Crucially, there was scant evidence of the saltwater zones that often dot such diagrams and can spell doom. It was all oil.
Pioneer’s chief executive officer, Scott Sheffield, watched with anticipation. He’d been drilling vertical wells in the Permian since 1979 with only modest success. After hearing his geologist, he ordered the drilling of two horizontal test wells.
Those wells cost four times what a vertical did but wound up spewing seven times the crude. Sheffield called for more horizontals. He had the money to invest because he’d sold off seemingly sexier oil projects and avoided borrowing while other independent drillers were wagering yet again that oil prices would forever climb.
By 2015, Sheffield had stopped drilling new vertical wells altogether and diverted almost all of Pioneer’s effort and money into the Permian’s shale. All of which helps explain how Pioneer—a $26 billion company with less than one-tenth of Exxonmobil’s market value, almost no oil fields beyond Texas, and the same boring CEO for more than 30 years—is now showing the world how to thrive amid the worst oil bust since the 1980s.
As crude prices have fallen about 60 percent since their most recent peak, in June 2014, investors have seen $1 trillion in value vanish. More than 40 oil-related companies have sought bankruptcy protection, and more filings are expected. Lenders are setting aside billions of dollars to cover losses. But over the last seven calendar years, Pioneer’s stock has risen an average of 34 percent annually, more than 10 times the rate of Exxon and Shell. In 2016 its shares are up 29 percent.
“Everybody looks good when prices are high,” says Michelle Foss, chief energy economist at the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology. “Not very many companies look good when prices are lower.”
Pioneer has a huge presence in the Permian, with the rights to 800,000 acres and more than 20,000 drilling sites that could hold as much as 10 billion barrels of crude. Sheffield estimates the Permian shales in total could hold 75 billion barrels, second only to Saudi Arabia’s gargantuan Ghawar field. Pioneer’s good fortune is the result of a bunch of little, long-ago bets that added up to a big one. Sheffield bought most of the company’s Permian drilling acreage in the ’80s and ’90s, when the world’s oil giants were bolting West Texas for offshore and foreign plays. Sheffield kept it because it was low-risk and reliable. He had no idea those parcels one day would reside in what might be the biggest oil find in U.S. history.
Scott Sheffield personifies Pioneer just as he defies the stereotype of the Texas wildcatter. A 63-year-old with bushy reddish- gray eyebrows and a hint of his native Texas accent, he’s cautious and publicity-shy—the antithesis of the late natural gas fracker Aubrey Mcclendon.
Sheffield attended high school in Iran, where his father worked for Arco. Sheffield was a petroleum engineer at Amoco in 1979 when his then father-in-law, Joe Parsley, hired him at Parker & Parsley, a small independent producer in Midland, Texas, in the heart of the Permian Basin.
The Permian was once the mother lode of U. S. crude production. First drilled in the 1920s, it endowed Texas with a sway over global energy markets unmatched until the rise of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Parker & Parsley focused on a part of the basin named for Abner Spraberry, who owned farmland where oil was discovered in the 1940s. Sheffield made it his mission “to know the Spraberry backward and forward,” he says. Eventually he could rattle off the daily production rate of every Parker & Parsley well. The wells were unspectacular but consistent producers that promised to last for decades. Parsley lectured his son-in-law on the value of hanging on to such dependable assets.
Parker & Parsley’s co-founders sold their company in 1985 to a real estate concern. Sheffield was named president of its Parker & Parsley subsidiary. The major U.S. energy companies were shedding domestic assets to invest overseas. The middling Spraberry wasn’t economical for the big guys, but it was fine for Sheffield. He started buying drilling leases from Mobil, Exxon, and others.
Parker & Parsley broke away from its parent in the late 1980s and went public in 1991. Sheffield kept buying the Spraberry even as Wall Street yawned and experts proclaimed the Permian to be old news. “It had no sizzle,” Sheffield says. “That’s what analysts and investors told me.” But he viewed those acres as an annuity that would keep producing as the company tried riskier ventures. “He looked at it as kind of the breadbasket,” says Tim Dunn, then a top Sheffield lieutenant and now CEO of Crownquest Operating. “He went against the grain and used it as a platform.”
In 1997, Parker & Parsley merged with Mesa, the company founded by T. Boone Pickens and later restructured by investor Richard Rainwater. The new company, Pioneer, moved to
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