Berkeley seeks experts for ‘soda tax’ advisory panel

Vicki Alexander, co-chair of the Yes on D campaign, spoke at a pro-soda tax demo outside Old City Hall in July. Photo: Berkeley vs Big Soda
Vicki Alexander, co-chair of the Yes on D campaign, at a pro-soda-tax demonstration in July. Photo: Berkeley vs Big Soda

The city of Berkeley has put out a call for experts interested in joining a new advisory panel to set spending priorities for “soda tax” dollars approved by voters in November.

Four Berkeley City Council members who make up a subcommittee focused on Measure D, the sugar-sweetened beverage tax, released the application to the community in late December. The deadline is Jan. 17.

The 1-cent-per-ounce tax on the distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages has been conservatively estimated to bring perhaps $200,000 into city coffers each year, according to Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development. But that number is very much hypothetical, due to the numerous variables — such as local consumption figures, how the city collects the money and whether UC Berkeley will also collect the tax — that will impact the final tally.

Read complete Berkeleyside soda tax coverage, and see the text of the measure.


Berkeley Councilman Laurie Capitelli said previously that, though the tax went into effect Jan. 1, the city will wait to spend any of the money until all legal questions about the tax have been resolved. Officials had earlier expressed some concern that an opponent of the tax might file a lawsuit to challenge it. City spokesman Matthai Chakko said, as of Monday, no legal action has been filed.

A spokesman for the American Beverage Association, Roger Salazar, did not respond Monday to a request for comment about the potential for a lawsuit, or other updates from the association since the November election. [Update: Salazar said Tuesday at about 10:40 a.m. by email that he does not anticipate legal action.]

According to the council subcommittee’s Dec. 22 letter to the community, the nation is keeping a close eye on how the city handles its new tax: “As Berkeley is the first municipality … to successfully tax sugar-sweetened drinks, people all across the country are watching our implementation. This is an invitation to participate in that process.”

The proceeds from the new tax will go into the city’s general fund. From the measure: “This general tax will provide revenue to be available for the general governmental needs of the people of Berkeley.”

That said, the ordinance approved by the voters also establishes a panel of experts to advise council “on how and to what extent the City should establish and/or fund programs to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley,” according to the subcommittee letter.

Supporters of Measure D have said the money will be spent on “programs that improve children’s health across Berkeley.”

The panel will also be responsible for creating an annual report to analyze “the impact of this new ordinance on the public health of Berkeley residents,” which proponents of the tax have said will help keep the city on track with its spending and priorities for the money.

Council is not bound by the recommendations of the panel, however. From the ordinance: “The City Council shall consider, but need not follow, the Panel’s recommendations and shall annually inform the Panel as to the extent to which it has implemented the Panel’s recommendations.”

The one-page application includes five ways to qualify to be considered for the panel: a background in researching public health issues or evaluating public health programs related to diabetes, obesity and sugary drink consumption; training in early childhood nutrition education; work with a community- or school-based nutrition program; or being a licensed medical practitioner.

The entire council will receive the full set of applications, and each council member is set to appoint one person to serve on the nine-member panel by the end of February. The tax is slated to be in effect through Dec. 31, 2026.

The Berkeley School Board has already nominated several people for the panel, including at least three gardening instructors — Daria Wrubel, Carrie Fehr (former) and Matt Tsang — and one school parent, Marian Mabel.

At the time of last report, the board planned to make additional nominations, but updated information was not available Monday afternoon. [Update, Jan. 6, 1:30 p.m.: See a list of those nominations here.]

See the application and cover letter online.

Related:
Op-ed: Laying our Measure D vote on the cogs of the beverage industry machine (11.05.14)
Why Berkeley passed a soda tax while other cities failed (11.05.14)
A record $3.6 million spent in Berkeley campaigns (11.03.14)
Photo essay: Berkeley, a city consumed by a soda tax (10.29.14)
Op-ed: We trust officials to spend soda tax money wisely (10.01.14)

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