City of Berkeley Sugary Beverages and Soda Tax Question (November 2014)

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A City of Berkeley Sugary Beverages and Soda Tax ballot question may be on the November 4, 2014 election ballot for voters in the City of Berkeley in Alameda County, California.

If approved, this measure would impose a sales tax on all beverages sweetened with sugar at a rate amounting to $0.12 per twelve ounce can of soda. This measure is similar to the "soda tax" also proposed in San Francisco for the November election, which would be at a rate of $0.02 per ounce if voters approve it. 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.[1][2]

With millions of dollars spent by the beverage industry in opposition, similar tax measures were defeated in 2012 in Richmond and the town of El Monte. If the 2014 measures in San Francisco and Berkeley are put on the ballot and approved, they would be the first such taxes imposed on soda or sugary beverages.[3]

On February 11, 2014, the Berkeley City Council approved the commissioning of a poll to find out the stance of the voters on this issue and determine whether the tax could be approved if put on the ballot. This poll is expected to be complete by April 1, 2014. The City Council made plans to revisit the issue and officially approve the measure's ballot language during their July 1, 2014, meeting.[2]

Based on the City Council's decision in July, this measure would either impose a special tax or a general tax. A special tax would allow revenue to be used for specific purposes such as school nutrition programs, but it would require a 2/3rds supermajority vote for approval. A general tax would produce revenue that could only go into the Berkeley general fund, but it would only require a simple majority - 50% plus one vote - for approval.[2]


  • The group Berkeley Vs. Big Soda is supporting the measure.[1]
  • City 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."[2]
  • Laurie Capitelli, Berkeley City Council Member, said, “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.”[2]
  • Vicki Alexander, co-chair of Berkeley Health Child Coalition said, “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.”[2]


The city-commissioned poll on this issue is expected to be complete and available by the April 1, 2014, City Council meeting. It will be posted here at that time.[2]

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