Berkeley voters will weigh in on sugary drink tax in November


The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to put a proposal to levy a one-cent-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages to voters in November, despite some opposition from local business owners.

The decision makes Berkeley the second Bay Area city headed for a bruising battle with the beverage industry in the fall.

San Francisco supervisors in February placed on the ballot a measure that would tax the drinks two cents per ounce, and direct proceeds to city and public school nutrition, health and physical activity programs to combat diabetes, obesity and other negative health effects linked to sugary-beverage consumption.


The San Francisco measure requires two-thirds’ approval. But because proceeds from Berkeley’s tax would go to the general fund, it requires only a simple majority. (Council members have pledged to use the revenue for nutrition and education programs, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, but one business owner on Tuesday called it a “money grab.”)

Similar measures in Richmond and El Monte were resoundingly defeated in 2012.

But backers -- which include the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, the Berkeley chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, and Latinos Unidos de Berkeley, along with parent organizations, are hopeful that this liberal city can pull it off.

“This is a silent killer,” said Xavier Morales, a parent who is executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and co-director of Latinos Unidos de Berkeley.

Both the Berkeley and San Francisco campaigns are already being aggressively opposed by Californians for Food & Beverage Choice, an organization self-described as spearheaded by the American Beverage Assn.

“Our view basically is that beverage taxes aren’t the solution for changing behaviors or teaching people about healthy lifestyles,” said spokesman Roger Salazar. “A regressive tax on common grocery items like sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley won’t make people any healthier, but it does have an impact on businesses and consumers who are already struggling to make ends meet.”


Last month, a proposed bill that would have made California the first state to require warning labels on sugary drinks went down to defeat in an Assembly committee, in part because of industry opposition.

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