Nancy Skinner speaks to soda tax supporters

Lydia Tuan/Staff

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California State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, delivered a speech Saturday to rally supporters of proposed legislation that would impose a tax on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley.

Supporters of Measure D, who collectively call their campaign Berkeley vs. Big Soda, held an event encouraging volunteers to canvass across Berkeley and gather donations. Approximately 20 volunteers congregated at Berkeley vs. Big Soda’s Downtown office and started the morning listening to a speech from Skinner, followed by canvassing activities.

Measure D — a measure Berkeley voters will decide on the November ballot — will apply a sales tax of $0.01 per ounce on sugary beverages in Berkeley. This measure is similar to San Francisco’s Proposition E, a ballot measure that would impose a $0.02-per-ounce tax on beverages sweetened with sugar in the city.

“Our health is at risk. The entire health of the USA is at risk,” Skinner said in her speech to a crowd of supporters. “National governments and state governments have to start responding.”

Measure D has received unanimous support from City Council members of all eight districts, as well as several Berkeley School Board members. Other proponents include Mayor Tom Bates, UC Berkeley public policy professor Robert Reich and state Senator Loni Hancock, D-Oakland.

Despite City Council’s unanimous support, opponents of Measure D contend that Berkeley voters should take notice of the measure’s numerous loopholes, which they say include exempting sugary drinks such as alcohol and diet soda and excluding select grocery stores who purchase their beverages outside of Berkeley from the tax.

“When we look at the measure and the lack of accountability, we wonder if this is nothing more than an exercise of vanity for the City Council members,” said Roger Salazar, spokesperson for No on D.

Furthermore, those against the measure argue that it does not clearly state whether funds raised from taxes would go into any health programs. According to No on D’s website, there is no way to account for a beverage where the consumer adds sugar after purchase.

But Tony Wilkinson, a Berkeley resident since 1966 who attended Saturday’s event, said Measure D represents an important step for the community to address the “crisis of health for children” and to reverse health damages.

“We can begin to take some of the profits that these corporations are making off our children’s health and turn that money to address the health consequences of drinking so much soda,” Wilkinson said. “It’s a big, long struggle to fight for the health of our children, but it’s an important first step.”

If Berkeley and San Francisco’s ballot measures are passed in November, both cities would be the first cities in the United States to pass a sweetened beverage tax.

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.