When students in Jonathan “J.J.” Iagulli’s senior AP Government classes at Carolina Forest High School learned the last free beachfront parking in Myrtle Beach was going away, they were livid.
“I love to surf. It’s what I do and I was upset that they were just going to take it from me,” said Liam Zevgolis, a senior in Iagulli’s class who plans to teach surfing this summer at Surf City Surf Shop near 64th Avenue North. But if his customers have to pay $20 a day to park at the beach, he said he worries about what that will do to business.
“I know for a fact that I’m not going to the beach for $20 a day. … No one in high school can pay $20 to go to the beach,” he said. “We’re all poor. … We go to the beach because it’s free.”
Zevgolis and his classmates decided to put what they learned in their class about local government into action. They started an online petition to share their views against the city’s new parking regulations last week. The change.org petition started with a single signature, but within a day had gained more than 1,000 others.
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The petition now has more than 3,660 supporters.
It’s their effort, their movement, which makes me very proud.
Jonathan “J.J.” Iagulli, AP Government teacher at Carolina Forest High School
Iagulli says he is both proud and impressed. When his students told him they wanted to take action, he said, they had one last three-week project to finish before graduation.
“You’re still going to have to do that project,” he told them, “but we can add this if you want.”
The students added it to their plate and took full responsibility for the extra work.
“I would give them guidance, but it’s them. It’s their effort, their movement, which makes me very proud,” Iagulli said. “Honestly … they could have done something at their own pace to the end.”
But his students – armed with the knowledge that people have a voice in the decisions their representatives make in a democracy – were ready to act.
The students’ online petition can be found at http://chn.ge/1NFAM6o or by visiting www.change.org and searching for “Free Parking at the Public Beach Access in Myrtle Beach”
Myrtle Beach City Council passed a law May 10 that would change the beach access spaces between 31st Avenue North to 82nd Avenue North – many of which were free – to paid spaces. The premium spots would fetch $4 an hour or $20 a day from non-city resident beach goers. City residents with parking decals will be the only ones allowed to park for free.
City leaders said the idea behind the price, which is double the city’s other parking rates, was to encourage visitors to use other city lots away from a mostly residential area along the beach known as the Golden Mile.
But county residents have said they’ll just take the sales tax money they would have spent in Myrtle Beach to other beach cities that don’t charge as much.
For years beachgoers have parked along Ocean Boulevard or along the lanes in between Kings Highway to Ocean Boulevard in the Golden Mile for free. Those spaces, which will be limited under the new plan, will now only be open to city residents with parking decals. The new regulations were initiated to curb a parking problem that sparked safety concerns, but students see the changes leading to so much more.
No one in high school can pay $20 to go to the beach. ... We’re all poor.
Liam Zevgolis, senior at Carolina Forest High School
And they’ve done their homework.
Iagulli said the students formed committees to research the issue and related laws and to spread the word of their efforts through the media. They formed a grassroots effort to take their petition to the streets and netted several more signatures on their first day Saturday.
Under the new regulations, non-city resident beachgoers will have to pay for the beach access spaces through a smart phone app. But in their research, Zevgolis said they learned 36 percent of the public does not have a smartphone.
If the city loses even 15 percent of the people that used to come to the beach, he said, they found Myrtle Beach could lose more than $1 billion in revenue.
Students plan to present their findings and ask city leaders some tough questions at the Myrtle Beach City Council meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Iagulli said city manager John Pedersen has also agreed to come and talk to the students Monday to share the city council’s perspective behind the parking plan.
In the end, Zevgolis says they hope their voice will count and the council will revisit the issue that affects hundreds of thousands more than the few who live in the Golden Mile.
The students will graduate June 2, but they plan to meet weekly to continue their efforts. At least two of the seniors, who live inside the city limits, have also said they plan to run for the next open Myrtle Beach City Council seat.