PLEASURE POINT -- Jon and Meg's beach wedding has left a sour taste in the mouths of some Mid-County beach-goers.
Someone in the wedding party gouged the names of the bride and groom known only as Meg and Jon into the fragile sandstone cliff above a popular Mid-County beach before Friday's ceremony. The letters, which are about a foot tall and one and a half inches deep, are visible to sunbathers as well as surfers in the water at the break below Opal Cliff's Drive.
"It's a visual blight," said Howard "Boots" McGee, who saw a man in a white shirt standing up against the cliff while he paddled past the pocket beach on his stand-up paddleboard Friday morning. "It's vandalism and it's worse than paint."
McGee said he noticed that chairs had been set up on the beach, but didn't realize what the man, who was facing the cliff for quite some time, was up to until he received a text message later that day from a friend. He returned to the area later to take pictures of the damage.
News of the vandalism spread rapidly through the beach community via word of mouth and social media. Though it was never reported to law enforcement, according to Santa Cruz County sheriff's Sgt. Patrick Dimick.
McGee posted photographs of the carvings and a description of what he saw on his Facebook page, prompting dozens of people to comment angrily.
Along with referring to the vandal as "idiots" "morons" and "ridiculous," people lamented the complete disregard for the landscape and referred to the act as "ecoterrorism." Others said they hope that the vandal will be identified and fined or forced to do community service.
Unlike most graffiti, which can be washed off or covered with paint, there's no way to remove the carving without further damaging the cliffs. Even after beach-goers packed the lettering with sand, in an attempt to hide the gouges, it remained visible. While the vandalism is unsightly, many fear it will lead to greater damage.
The biggest concern is that the carving will exacerbate erosion along the cliff, which is vulnerable to rock slides. Signs posted on the pathway leading to the beach warn people that the cliffs are unstable.
"This is a fragile cliff," McGee said. "It's sandstone and it's permeable. Water can and will erode it."
The beach where the wedding took place is accessible through a quarter-acre park, as well as by foot from Capitola or the Hook at low tides. Maintenance of the park and the stairwell leading to the sand is funded by neighborhood property taxes and beach dues, and the property is managed by a special district that is overseen by the county. The fees also pay for a locked gate and a security guard to prevent access to those who don't purchase a key.
A board member for the Opal Cliffs Recreation District said someone had approached the board recently seeking permission to hold a wedding on the beach. They were turned down because the district's insurance policy doesn't cover liability for events such as a wedding.
"We told them absolutely not," said Craig Springbett, a board member.
Despite that, a group arrived at the park, told the young security guard they had been given permission to hold a wedding there. Using a single key, one of the party held the gate open for the wedding party, which was estimated at 20 to 40 people.
"They totally lied to the gate guard," said Springbett.
He said he later heard complaints from beach-goers who said members of the wedding party tried to shoo them away so that they wouldn't appear in the photographs.
"It was really unfortunate," Springbett said about the entire affair. "If we can find out who did it, I'd like to know."