Sugar-sweetened beverage experts discuss allocation of ‘soda tax’ revenue

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A city-appointed commission of sugar-sweetened beverage experts met Thursday evening at the South Berkeley Senior Center to discuss recommendations for the allocation of funds collected from a municipal “soda tax.”

The Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts Commission also reviewed strategies for community engagement and education on soda consumption. The measure, which was passed during last November’s municipal elections, places a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages.

In May, the commission advised Berkeley City Council to preemptively allocate $500,000 to a general reserve fund that will support health-education programs in anticipation that revenue from the soda tax would replenish the original funds.

The commission also recommended that the city allocate $250,000 of those funds to Berkeley Unified School District for the Cooking and Gardening Program, which promotes sustainable nutrition and locally sourced produce, said school district board member Josh Daniels.

Currently the commission is discussing how best to use the remaining $250,000 in the reserve. Xavier Morales, a commissioner on the panel, said in an email that many of the details of the commission’s work — such as its ultimate goals, programs and community engagement strategies — are still being worked through.

“We want to raise public awareness of the health risks associated with consumption of such beverages,” said Mayor Tom Bates in an email. “The tax is intended to raise funds to be able to provide information about the risks and a healthy diet to citizens, especially young people.”

Earlier this year, City Council announced that the tax had generated $116,000 in the month of March, the first month in which the tax revenue was collected. The city reported that the tax brought in about $375,000 for the first quarter of the year. Commissioner Holly Scheider estimates that annual revenue from the tax will reach previous estimates of approximately $1 million.

In response to the soda tax, some businesses have increased their soda prices or altered restaurant policies. Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, which did not support Measure D when it passed, has adopted a no-refill policy because of the tax.

Jim Trevor, an operating partner at Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, said in an email that he would rather see the revenue from the soda tax invested directly in youth sports and nutrition programs than put in a general fund, which he said would be spent “on big government bureaucracy.”

Scheider said communities ultimately benefit when businesses increase their prices because of the tax, since they discourage purchase of sugary beverages. Even if businesses choose not to raise prices, she added, any revenue from the tax will help fund health-related programs.

The Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts Commission will reconvene Sept. 3.

Contact Ivana Saric at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ivanas26.