City panel of experts presents revenue data generated from municipal ‘soda tax’

Chen Gong/File

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A city-appointed commission of sugar-sweetened beverage experts met Thursday to present the total amount of revenue collected from a municipal “soda tax” since its implementation.

The Sugar Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts Commission was created after the passage of Measure D — known colloquially as the soda tax — which places a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on city distributors of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages.

In addition, the committee reviewed a recommendation, which will be presented to Berkeley City Council, to create a million dollar trust fund for “Berkeley’s Health,” in an effort to disseminate information regarding the negative impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages to community members.

Revenue earned in the first three months of the implementation of the tax was also released at the meeting.

Commissioners emphasized the necessity of knowing where soda tax revenue is being collected as a way of targeting locations to help decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

“I want to know how much information we can get on who is buying soda and where the soda is being bought,” Commissioner Joyce Moore said at the meeting.

Additionally, demographic information — such as race and age — of those purchasing sugar-sweetened beverages would also be instrumental in facilitating the commission in better investigating the effectiveness of the soda tax.

“(We) want to evaluate impact of funds, and that’s how we’re going to know impact of the fund,” Commissioner Xavier Morales said.

According to a report distributed at the meeting, the total revenue gained from Measure D between March and May was more than $375,100. Revenue in May was about 12 percent higher than revenue in March, raising from about $117,434 to about $132,013.

During public comment, concern regarding how revenue earned from the tax fulfills the goals of Measure D was raised. Currently, the revenue goes into the city’s general fund, the city’s discretionary funding source.

“Can we trust the city to do the right thing … (toward) families of color, and not just a revenue source for pet projects?” said Berkeley resident Tony Wilkinson during public comment.

The funds of the city measure, which began generating revenue in March, were intended “to diminish the human and economic costs of chronic diseases associated with the consumption of sugary drinks,” according to the recommendation.

According to a memorandum, the commission — established in May — has since created three subcommittees on prevention strategies, the allocation process of revenue and community engagement.

With continued public interest and the “urgency” of the commission’s mission, the commission has created a health promotion program to solicit proposals from organizations that can implement services or policies that will decrease the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, according to the memorandum.

The commission will reconvene Sept. 17.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.