Berkeley officials took steps Tuesday to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, suggesting it is the type of city that could pass one, even though beverage companies spent millions in 2013 to defeat a soda tax in nearby Richmond.
The City Council voted to put a sugar tax on a community poll assessing possible ballot measures for the November 2014 election. A broad coalition of local groups, rallying under the banner of Berkeley vs Big Soda, turned out a crowd of vocal advocates for a one cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
“No city has been able to successfully pass a sugar-sweetened beverages tax. But it will happen here in Berkeley,” said Councilman Darryl Moore.
“The reason for such a tax is clear,” said Vicki Alexander, co-chair, Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition. “40% of Berkeley Unified 9th 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.”
Several council members said there is a difficult choice between placing a special tax — the funds of which could go for a specific purpose, such as nutrition programs in schools — or a general tax — where funds go into the city’s general fund — on the ballot. A special tax requires a two-thirds majority vote, while a general tax requires only 50% plus one. Alexander said the campaign estimates a one cent tax per ounce in Berkeley would produce $1.5 million annually.