Seacliff Memorial Wall Controversy
By Maggie Caldwell
The wall that separates the Seacliff Beach RV camping area and homes on Las Olas Drive is informally known as the Seacliff Memorial Wall, but as area resident Grant Butcher discovered, that will soon change. Butcher was at the wall the morning of Friday, August 8 preparing a small square for a memorial plaque honoring a loved one. Instead, he was confronted by an irate homeowner who questioned the rights of nearby maintenance workers to trim overhanging trees before threatening to have the entire wall torn down to prevent any more memorials from being affixed to it. “She was causing a scene,” said Steve Maciel, who witnessed the confrontation. “People started to gather and watch.”
When Butcher returned the following Monday, an official notice was posted that read, in part:
The inscriptions, writings, signs, plaques, flower vases and any other personal memorials placed on this wall are unlawful and violate California Penal Code Sections 594, 602, 602.8, 640.5, and/or 640.6 and all such items will be removed within thirty (30) days after the date of this Notice.
“It’s very upsetting,” Butcher said. Especially because the Penal Code sections cited cover graffiti, defacement, and vandalism. “That’s not graffiti!” said a nearly camper when asked about the wall. “I think it’s really nice!”
The community agrees, and a grassroots fury has erupted since the notices were posted. Emails protesting the removal flooding Supervisor Zach Friend’s office, and an online petition called “Save the Seacliff Beach Memorial Wall” garnered almost 1,200 signatures in the first 24 hours just from social media shares.
The law, however, is on the side of the homeowners, who have never given permission for plaques and other items to be attached. “The wall is private property,” said State Park Peace Officer Supervisor Todd Allen. “The owners are entitled to restore the wall as they wish. Right now we just want to get the word out so people have the chance to retrieve their items.”
Allen noted that people would have 60 days, not 30, to remove memorials, and any items left on the wall would be stored for future recovery. (The details on where are still being worked out.) However, Maciel, who has a plaque honoring his father on the wall, does not know how they are planning to remove them. “I can’t take that down without ruining it,” he said. “They can’t ruin my dad’s plaque.”
Bridget Goin, LMFT, a grief specialist in Santa Cruz County, understands the importance of the Seacliff Memorial Wall for the community. “It’s often the physical loss of a loved one that’s the hardest to deal with,” she observes. “[Dr.] Alan Wolfert talks about touchstones, or markers, to guide you through the grief process. In the case of the Seacliff Memorial Wall, these touchstones are literal.” Each day people walk the length of the Seacliff Promenade to reach out and touch the wall, honoring those who have passed.
Is there room to compromise? “We’ve just started digging into it,” said Patrick Mulhearn of Superintendent Zach Friend’s office. “We don’t know yet exactly what the situation is. We’re working with the state legislature delegation and have reached out to [State Assemblymember] Mark Stone’s office to see what can be done; if we can try to find some middle ground.” Homeowners and the Homeowners Association could not be reached for comment.
“I don’t know what to do right now,” Butcher said. “I may just tack the plaque up, take a picture of it, and take it down again.”
You can find the “Save The Seacliff Beach Memorial Wall” petition online at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/284/735/519/save-the-seacliff-beach-memorial-wall/#sign