Berkeley joins San Francisco, potentially putting a sugary beverage tax on the November ballot

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February 18, 2014

By Josh Altic


Both the Berkeley and San Francisco City Councils are considering November 4, 2014 ballot measures that would, if approved, impose a sales tax on all sugary beverages. The group Berkeley Vs. Big Soda is lobbying for and plans to throw their support behind the measure they are calling the Healthy Child Initiative, which would be a $0.01 per ounce tax on all beverages sweetened with sugar, excluding alcoholic beverages, milk products or drinks used for medical purposes. On February 11, 2014, the Berkeley City Council commissioned a poll to find out the stance of voters on this issue and determine if the tax could be approved if put on the ballot. This poll is expected to be complete by April 1, 2014, and the City Council has made plans to revisit the issue and officially approve the measure's ballot language during their July 1, 2014, meeting.[1] Supervisor Scott Wiener is spearheading a similar measure in San Francisco, where, if the measure is approved, a $0.02 per ounce tax would be imposed on all sugary beverages, amounting to 24 cents for every can of soda.[2]

Proponents of both measures expect aggressive, well-funded opposition from the beverage industry, referencing similar measures that were defeated in Richmond and the town of El Monte after certain corporations spent millions to defeat the soda tax ballot questions.[1] Berkeley Council Member Darryl Moore said, “No city has been able to successfully pass a sugar-sweetened beverages tax. But it will happen here in Berkeley." Berkeley City Council Member Laurie Capitelli was less confident but equally determined, saying, “It will be a daunting task, because the sugar industry if we proceed with this, will throw millions and millions of dollars at this. They will try to divide us by race, they will try to divide us by class. They will accuse Berkeley of being a nanny state. You can count on a piece of mail in your mailbox every three or four days. It scares the pants off me to think about what they’re going to do when they come after us. They will try to buy people. They will accuse Berkeley and the council of trying to dictate what you can buy. We’re going to get all of that, and we’re going to get it in an avalanche. But we’re letting people poison us and we’re letting them get off scot-free.”[3]

Vicki Alexander, co-chair of Berkeley Health Child Coalition spoke about the necessity of this measure and the health problems experienced by Berkeley residents, saying, “The reason for such a tax is clear. Forty percent of Berkeley Unified ninth-graders are overweight. An African-American resident is four times more likely than a white resident to have been diagnosed with diabetes. It is unconscionable to stand by and do nothing. Please be for Berkeley and against Big Soda. The health of our children and our families is at stake.”[3]

Similar measures