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City of Richmond Tax on Soda, Measure N (November 2012)

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A City of Richmond "Soda Tax" ballot measure, Measure N was on the November 6, 2012, ballot for voters in the City of Richmond in Contra Costa County, where it was defeated.[1]

Measure N would have imposed a "business license fee" of 1 cent per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages sold within city limits. This means that consumers would have paid 12 cents more for the average can of pop than they currently pay.[1]

A companion measure, Measure O, was also on the ballot. Measure O was an advisory measure asking if the proceeds of the tax should be used for sports and health education programs "aimed at local youths."

Election results

Measure N
Defeatedd No21,39566.98%
Yes 10,549 33.02%
Measure O
Approveda Yes 18,672 65.03%
Final official results from the Contra Costa County elections office.


  • City council member Jeff Ritterman wrote the language for the measure and was its chief spokesperson. A former chief of cardiology at Kaiser Richmond Medical Center, he said, "I'm in this to win this."[1]
  • Actor Danny Glover supported Measure N. In a press release from "Fit for Life," he is quoted as saying, "I come from a basic family of working-class people who worked very hard and had solid values. It's important for people of color to link up with issues around food security, health and the environment. Big corporations that sell sugary drinks are profiting while our kids grow sick and overweight."[2]
  • The organization "Blacks Mobilizing, Organizing and Educating Richmond" supported Measure N.[2]
  • The Rev. Alvin Bernstine supported Measure N.[2]


The "No on Measure N" campaign logo


  • Kris Hunt, the executive director of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, was opposed to Measure N. She said, "If childhood obesity is the target, banning soda from schools altogether would be a better tactic."[3]
  • Joe Fisher, treasurer of the Bay Area Political Action Committee, opposed Measure N.[2]

Arguments against

Arguments made by the "No on Measure N" campaign against Measure N included:

  • "Measure N is unfair and discriminatory because it hits low-income people hardest.
  • Measure N will hurt local business by making products more expensive and imposing new compliance costs.
  • Measure N will take millions of dollars out of the pockets of Richmond residents, yet we will not have any control over how the money is used.
  • Measure N is a distraction from the issues of greatest concern to Richmond residents—crime, employment, and schools.
  • Measure N sets a precedent whereby City Hall can dictate what is and is not appropriate for our families."[4]


Through early October 2012, the "No on Measure N" campaign raised about $2.2 million.[2][5]

Chuck Finnie, a spokesperson for the "No on N" campaign, said, "We're going to spend what is necessary to inform voters about a misleading and misguided tax that will cost Richmond residents and businesses millions of dollars a year in higher grocery bills and lost sales and revenue."[5]

Text of measures

Measure N

The question on the ballot:

Measure N: "Shall an ordinance be adopted to impose a business license fee of one (1) cent per ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage served, provided, or traded by businesses in the City?"[6]

Measure O

The question on the ballot:

Measure O: "Should the proceeds of any business license fee measured by the serving, providing, or trading of sugar-sweetened beverages be used to: have more after school sports programs, make them less expensive and provide adequate sports fields; allow healthier school meals, nutrition classes and cooking classes; provide medical care for children with diabetes who can’t afford care; and support other worthy projects to prevent and treat diabetes and childhood obesity?"[6]

Path to the ballot

Measure N was placed on the ballot by a 5-2 vote of the Richmond City Council.[1]

City council members Nat Bates and Corky Booze voted against referring the measure to the ballot. Bates said at the time of the vote, "I can't see this ballot measure passing. People are fed up with the taxes."[1]


Charles Breyer, a federal district court judge, ruled in early September that the City of Richmond cannot require the "No on Measure N" campaign to state on campaign literature mailed to voters in Richmond that the "No on Measure N" campaign has received ""major funding from large out-of-city contributors."[7]

The City of Richmond adopted a campaign disclosure law in 2002 and revised it in June 2012; the September 7, 2012 ruling of federal judge Breyer indicates that unless the city revokes that campaign finance ordinance, he will strike it down, because it violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Judge Breyer additionally said that the ordinance in question is unconstitutionally vague. By this he meant that the language of the ordinance wasn't drafted clearly enough to clarify to campaign finance organizations exactly what their obligations are.[7]

The key provision of the ordinance would have required campaign committees that receive funding from donors who do not live in the city to state that in large, bold-faced type on the front page of any campaign mailers. According to the judge, "That's clearly argumentative. You can't require the other side to make your arguments. That interferes with their First Amendment rights."[7]

See also

External links

Suggest a link


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