Soda tax will not be on Davis ballot

Reprinted from The Sacramento Bee

After weeks of heated debate between local health advocates and small business owners, the Davis city council ultimately decided not to place a one-cent-per-ounce soda tax on the June 2016 ballot, with several members stating that it would not be an effective revenue-raising measure for much-needed city infrastructure.

The measure, first proposed in late 2015 and discussed at a mid-December council meeting, was modeled after a similar policy in Berkeley, the first city in the nation to add a tax to sugary beverages. Davis residents packed the chambers Tuesday night to voice either passionate support or vehement opposition about whether such a tax deserved a vote.

Health advocates gather outside Davis city hall Monday to voice support for potential soda tax. Video by Sammy Caiola, [email protected]
The 3-2 rejection of the measure came to the great relief of small business owners, who showed up in force to explain how a soda tax would threaten their already thin profit margins. Many expressed concern that soda sales would go down, and that the tax would add an unfair burden to already-strapped employees.

“When these kinds of proposals are put together, it’s always the small consumers and small businesses that get hurt first,” said Suresh Kumar, owner of Olive Drive Market in Davis. “If you see what they’ve done in Berkeley, I have not heard anything positive about the tax that’s been imposed.”

Children’s health was the main talking point for proponents of the tax, who held a press conference Monday to rally support for the measure and inform the community about what they called a public health crisis. Several supporters showed up on Tuesday to voice concern about high rates of obesity and diabetes among youth.

“We need to protect our children,” said Davis resident Bill Ritter. “We need to educate the next generation about health habits, and this tax was a modest way to move in that direction.”

Rather than return with a formal sugary beverage tax measure for the ballot, as councilmen Robb Davis and Brett Lee had supported; city staff will return to council on Feb. 16 with ideas for a task force to address various child health issues. That solution came from a Substitute motion by councilwoman Rochelle Swanson, and garnered the support of councilman Lucas Frerichs and mayor Dan Wolk.

The council also declined to put on the June ballot a marijuana measure, which would have taxed the sale of cannabis should it be legalized on the state level, and a parcel tax. They agreed 4-1 to put a two percent raise to the existing 10% transient occupancy tax up for a vote.