OpinionOpinion

Op-ed: The Berkeley tax may have passed, but the campaign has not ended for Big Soda

For us in Berkeley, the historic campaign to pass Measure D (the soda tax) ended on Nov. 4, 2014, when over 76% of Berkeley overwhelmingly voted yes. Yet the campaign has not ended for Big Soda.

Having spent over $2 million (almost $50 per voter!) during the campaign, Big Soda has embarked on a campaign to discredit Measure D even before it has a chance to take effect.

In a recent Berkeleyside article, a few distributors expressed concerns regarding the exemptions in Measure D (for example: “The strongest complaints for some distributors focus[ed] on how they can follow the numerous exemptions.”). This is the exact same message against Measure D that Big Soda plastered in BART stations, in our mailboxes, and around our city – too many loopholes.

Even forgetting for a minute that soda distributors are a biased source, the “too many loopholes” argument has already been discredited. In an article written by KQED’s health reporter Lisa Aliferis, she writes:

“People can debate the merits of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax. The American Beverage Association is spending big to defeat these taxes. One of its strategies, especially in Berkeley, is to insist that Measure D contains ‘loopholes,’ and that it’s confusing. I frankly don’t find it confusing. If your favorite drink contains added sugar and has little other nutritional value, then more than likely it is subject to the tax. If it has nutritional value, such as milk or meal replacement drinks, it is not.

Measure D really is that simple. Its focus is on those high-calorie, low-nutrition sugary drinks that are a leading cause of diabetes and that Big Soda markets directly to our children, especially children of color.

Despite what Big Soda is attempting to have us believe, Measure D is being successfully implemented.

  • The City of Berkeley has published a clear FAQ for distributors After meeting with distributors to hear questions and receive feedback, the City developed an FAQ to provide answers to the exact type of questions that were raised by the two distributors in the Berkeleyside article.
  • Coca-Cola is not complaining. In a letter from the General Manager of Coke’s Northern California Market Unit, Coke has agreed to “be fully compliant” with Measure D and “will be adding a surcharge for products that fall within the scope of the ordinance.”
  • Measure D is already having an impact As reported in January by Berkeleyside, Dollar Tree has taken soda off of its shelves. Other anecdotal evidence demonstrates that distributors are passing along the cost, with retailers raising prices.
  • The advisory committee is almost operational. Measure D created a Panel of Experts to advice the City Council how best to allocate the tax revenue. After the application was published, there was overwhelmingly interest in sitting on the Measure D Panel of Experts. For the nine available slots, 42 people applied including public health researchers, doctors, dentists, and nurses. The City Council is expected to appoint all nine panelists by the end of the month.
  • Tax revenue will start coming in next month. The City has undertaken a thoughtful, deliberation process to implement Measure D. The first tax receipts are due to the City by April 30.

Berkeley wisely rejected Big Soda’s propaganda during the campaign, as well as its attempt to buy the election. Let us not allow Big Soda to succeed now that the election is over.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Email submissions to editors@berkeleyside.com. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Robert Reich is a former U.S. Secretary of Labor and a professor at UC Berkeley; Laurie Capitelli is a Berkeley City Councilmember; and Dr. Vicki Alexander is a former City of Berkeley Health Officer.