1st month of Berkeley ‘soda tax’ sees $116,000 in revenue

Alvin Wu/Staff

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At a press conference Monday afternoon, Berkeley City Council members announced the March revenue from a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages passed in November.

Measure D, the nation’s first so-called “soda tax,” taxes distributors of beverages with added sugar 1 cent per ounce. According to Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, the city received $116,000 from 36 entities in the month of March, and the tax is projected to generate $1.2 million in its first year for the city’s general fund.

Potential uses for the revenue will be recommended to City Council by a panel of experts, which was formed according to the ordinance. At the conference, Capitelli said panel and council members in attendance will urge City Council to allocate funding for children’s health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

“We have no template; we have no history to work with; and we approach these challenges quite methodically, cautiously and deliberately,” he said at the conference.

The funding will be allocated to existing nutrition programs in Berkeley Unified School District schools, such as the Gardening and Cooking Program, as well as new programs the panel will discuss. City Council voted last week to forward-fund $500,000 to the panel of experts for health-related community programs, $250,000 of which will fund the Gardening and Cooking Program.

Joy Moore, the instructor of the Gardening and Cooking Program at Berkeley Technology Academy and a member of the panel, said she expects the school could restart the cooking program with this new funding. The program had ended after its state funding was cut last year.

Roger Salazar, spokesperson for CalBev, which represents the nonalcoholic beverage industry in California, said the current wording of the ordinance lacks clarity. He said he has heard complaints from retailers, grocery stores and restaurants that are confused as to whether they count as distributors, meaning they would be liable to pay the tax. He said, however, that CalBev’s member companies will work with the city to comply with the ordinance.

“We are taking the approach that this is something that the voters have passed,” he said.

Although the City Council members said the tax was smoothly implemented, some local businesses said it caused difficulties.

“You get confused,” said Sam Juha, the owner of Cheese n’ Stuff, a sandwich shop on Durant Avenue. He said that Diet Coke, for example, is not taxed but that regular Coke is.

Mike Ayyad, one of the owners of Sam’s Market, a grocery store on Telegraph Avenue near campus, said his store has replaced AriZona tea and other 99-cent drinks with sugar-free ones because students refused to pay extra.

“They ask why (a drink) is more than 99 cents when they see it says 99 cents on the can,” he said. “The problem is that the public doesn’t know what is going on.”

Others, such as Fadhil Ahmed — an employee at Telegraph Market, another store on Telegraph Avenue — said the tax has had little effect. He said the students understand the purpose of the tax and accept it.

The expert panel will have its first meeting Tuesday and is expected to produce recommendations for City Council by Oct. 1.

Contact Yuka Koshino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @xxchris78xx.