Community survey shows difficulties for ballot measures

Proponents of a soda tax were out in force in neon green at Berkeley City Council. Photo: Lance Knobel
Proponents of a soda tax were out in force in neon green at Berkeley City Council in March. Photo: Lance Knobel

A second round survey of likely voters in Berkeley reveals the difficulty some likely ballot measures will face for passage in November.

The City Council commissioned the survey to test the waters for potential ballot measures. The first council-directed survey done in early March showed good support for a potential tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Other measures, including a parks parcel tax, commercial vacancy tax, and a pools bond, received tepid support. The latest survey, done in the second week of April, showed diminished support for the sugar tax, some hope for supporters of the commercial vacancy tax, and a continuing struggle for parks funds. 

The beverage industry has already begun campaigning against the potential Berkeley sugar-sweetened beverage tax, with promoted tweets on Twitter and a concerted effort to enlist merchants in opposition to the tax. In the March survey of 500 likely voters in Berkeley, 66% said they would support a 1 cent per ounce tax going to the general fund. Such a tax would only require 50% plus one vote to pass in November. The April survey, however, showed only 53% support on the same question.

Results improved when the survey asked about a special tax, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass. A straightforward question on a dedicated tax with revenues devoted to a variety of health education programs received 67% support. When more information is provided about both the general tax and the special tax, support grows — to a potential yes vote of 68% for the general tax and a potential yes vote of 70% for the special tax.


Based on the history of ballot measures in Berkeley, campaigners believe support generally declines as anti-measure information is spread. On that basis, the sugar-sweetened beverage tax — whether posed as a general or special tax — could face a rough battle for passage, according to the survey.

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A tax of $1 per square foot for ground floors of commercial properties vacant for two years received an unprompted 48% support in the survey. When respondents were provided further details — outlining the economic incentive to fill vacant shopfronts — support increased to a potential yes vote of 67%.

Park funding measures, according to the survey, will struggle to get two-thirds voter support. A 16% increase in the existing parks parcel tax — an average household increase of $43 per year — received only 54% support in the survey. A question on issuing $15 million in bonds with a $1 million special tax only received 51% support. Supporters of parks measures could find some consolation in the improvement in the tallies when further information was provided: the parcel tax increase rose to 70% potential yes, while the bond measure rose to 68% potential yes.

The survey results will be presented and analyzed at Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting.

Related stories:
Sugar tax hits the sweet spot for Berkeley residents (03.14.14)
Willard pool reopening on agenda for park bond measure (02.13.14)
Will Berkeley be the first in the nation to impose soda tax? (02.12.14)
Willard Pool supporters turn out for parks meeting (10.17.13)
Berkeley Tuolumne Camp supporters push to rebuild (10.16.13)
Commission, public discuss priorities for Berkeley’s parks (10.04.13)
4 public meetings planned on future of Berkeley parks (09.05.13)

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