City Council votes to allocate ‘soda tax’ revenue to school district, city organizations

Mitzi Perez/Staff

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At its Tuesday meeting, the Berkeley City Council voted to allocate money from its general fund accrued by the city’s “soda tax” to align with recommendations from the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products Panel of Experts Commission.

Though the tax raised only $1.2 million in the past nine months, the council voted to allocate $1.5 million from the general fund toward the commission’s recommendations for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Of the $1.5 million, $637,500 — nearly 42 percent — will be given to the Berkeley Unified School District to support programs for cooking, gardening and nutritional education. Another $637,500 will be given out as grants to community organizations.

Additionally, $225,000 will be devoted to the management of the city’s public health division, going toward general operating costs and the salaries of the health program manager and epidemiologist.

The commission — which was established with the creation of the tax — originally recommended that $2 million be allocated from the general fund in order support BUSD health programs, community grants and the city’s public health division.

“The reason we’re doing all this is because of a public health crisis that is really unprecedented in our country,” said Janet Berreman, the city’s health officer, who added that 40 percent of the nation’s teenagers are predicted to develop Type 2 diabetes.

Community members, however, stressed that the additional $400,000 taken out of the general fund and not replaced by revenue collected from the soda tax could be used for other concerns, such as funding for affordable housing.

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli called the panel’s $2 million recommendation “aggressive” and instead suggested lowering the allocation to $1.5 million. Capitelli also noted that the City Council already allocated $250,000 from the general fund to BUSD for the 2015-16 school year.

At the meeting, the council also approved an additional $250,000 to be allocated toward mini-grants for public health goals set by the commission, as well as branding and education campaigns for the tax.

Several council members expressed their belief that the community programs that the fund supports go toward the vulnerable groups in Berkeley — such as underrepresented minorities and low-income youth — who Councilmember Max Anderson called the “poster children of the campaign.”

“It would be a tragic, sad and unbelievable mistake if we shift this money into organization that’s not serving the populations that need to be served,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore.

Additionally, the City Council discussed the addition of a fourth ambulance in the city of Berkeley to reduce response times, balance EMT workloads and expedite EMT training.

The council also created a three-person subcommittee to discuss the addition of expanded paid sick leave in the city of Berkeley that, if passed, would allow employees to accumulate one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours spent working.

Jessica Lynn is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected].