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Davis

Davis, California

Saturday, September 25, 2021

City Council considers soda tax for June 2016 ballot

DEVIN McHUGH / AGGIE
DEVIN McHUGH / AGGIE

Davis could become second city in nation to introduce tax on sugary beverages

On Dec. 15, the Davis City Council voted to entertain the idea of placing a ‘soda tax’ on the June 2016 ballot. If approved, Davis’ estimated 60,000 residents would be voting on a tax of $0.01 per ounce on sugar sweetened beverages, which would exclude diet soda. The revenue from the soda tax would possibly be used for Parks and Recreation developments. A similar initiative was approved by voters in Berkeley at the end of 2014, making Berkeley the first city in America to implement this so-called soda tax.

Davis mayor Dan Wolk is not convinced the tax would be the most effective way to combat obesity and health problems associated with sugary beverages.

“The concern I have with the soda tax […] is that it’s not clear that it would be used solely for parks and recreation facilities, and it has significant opposition in our community,” Wolk said.

The Mayor has touted his own Healthy Families Initiative as being successful in making milk or water the default drink for kids meals in Davis schools. Wolk is concerned that the proposed tax revenue would not be specifically earmarked for parks and recreation improvements and he is not confident in the measure passing if it goes to vote in June.

“I think anything we put on the ballot to fund such infrastructure needs to be something which has a good chance of passing. What I’ve proposed as an alternative to the soda tax is a modest increase in our parks tax, which is something solely dedicated to [expanding] Parks and Recreation facilities,” Wolk said.

A 330 mL can of Coca Cola contains about seven teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that women have a maximum of six teaspoons of added sugars (not naturally occurring) and men have a maximum of nine. According to 2014 research by the Trust for America’s Health, 24.7 percent of California adults were classified as obese and, in 2011, 15.1 percent of 10 to 17 -year-olds were also classified as being obese, increasing the risk of strokes, heart disease and some cancers.

Obesity has become a major public health issue in recent years, and many cities are striving to take actions to curb the problem. Estimates suggest that revenue raised from the Davis soda tax could raise up to $1 million a year for the city and the tax does have supporters, including city councilmember Brett Lee.

“I’m favorably inclined, but it would depend on the details,” Lee said. “If all the tax is passed onto the consumer, a [regular] soda will cost $0.12 more, [which] I don’t think is going to be a huge discourager for people to enjoy the soda. On the other hand, in college at least, I knew people who would drink a 2-liter bottle of soda and drink it every day and that’s now $0.64 more expensive, so maybe [they’ll change their habits].”

While Wolk has expressed skepticism about the appetite voters would have for such a tax, Lee is more confident.

“In Berkeley, it passed. [About] 70 percent voted yes,” Lee said. “In San Francisco, it didn’t succeed. But the way they chose to do the tax required a two-thirds vote and it got [about] 56 percent of the vote. I think the people in Davis would pass it because people in Davis are health-conscious and they know that the revenue would go to things that would improve the quality of life in Davis. The idea being that this money would go toward [funding] recreation programs and other [health initiatives].”

Opponents of the tax are often concerned about the impact that it would have on businesses. Christina Blackman, CEO of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, emphasizes that while there are concerns about its effectiveness, the jury is still out on whether Davis businesses would support the tax.

“At this point, we’ve been reaching out to our members to just gauge what their concerns and questions are about [the tax],” Blackman said.  

She added that further education about the implementation of the tax will benefit the community. However, Blackman still shares many of the same concerns as Wolk on how the tax will be carried out and is skeptical that it will change consumer behaviors.

“[One of the concerns] is that this tax would be a business tax and that because the tax is proposed to tax the distributors, the consumer may not even be aware that this tax is in effect,” Blackman said.

The proposed tax has proponents who believe it is necessary in the long-running battle to help fight a national health crisis. However, its opponents argue that the tax does not effectively deal with the problem and may be a burden to businesses. If the measure is placed on the ballot in June 2016, it will be up to the people of Davis to decide whether they want to join Berkeley and become the second city in the nation to introduce the measure.

Written By: JUNO BHARDWAJ-SHAH – city@theaggie.org

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