Only In Berkeley: Voters Approve Soda Tax

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday November 05, 2014 - 10:43:00 AM

Berkeley voters made history in Tuesday by overwhelmingly approving a measure that will make Berkeley the first city in the country to place a tax on sodas and other sugary drinks, according to complete unofficial election results. 

Measure D, which won with about 75 percent approval, imposes a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages. The tax is payable by distributors, not the consumers, and will affect businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $100,000. 

The measure required a simple majority of voters to pass. 

Dr. Vicki Alexander, the co-chair of the Yes on D campaign, said she expects the measure's victory will start a trend of cities taxing soda drinks. 

Alexander said in a statement, "We fully expect other communities to take on the soda industry and succeed." 

She said, "Berkeley has a proud history of setting nationwide trends, such as nonsmoking sections in restaurants and bars, curb cuts for wheelchairs, curbside recycling, and public school food policies. Many communities have the same ingredients that made Measure D possible in Berkeley: proactive parents and community leaders who care about the health of their kids." 

But Roger Salazar of Californians for Food and Beverage Choice, said he thinks Measure D's victory is an anomaly, saying, "Berkeley doesn't necessarily represent mainstream America." 

Salazar said anti-soda drink activists have previously put similar measures on the ballot in other cities and counties across the nation and those were all defeated. 

A similar measure was voted down in San Francisco on Tuesday and Richmond voters also rejected a soda tax in 2012. 

Measure D supporters said during the campaign that the measure is needed because overwhelming scientific evidence shows that consumption of sugary drinks causes widespread health problems, including diabetes and heart disease, starting in childhood. 

But opponents alleged that the measure is riddled with loopholes for some businesses and it doesn't make sense because chocolate milk, alcoholic beverages and some coffee drinks wouldn't be taxed no matter how much sugar or how many calories they contain. 

Opponents also pointed out that the money raised by the tax will be funneled into the city's general fund and city officials could shift the money to other things besides educating people about the dangers of drinking soda.