Berkeley Passes First Soda Tax in the Nation


After all the ferocious campaigning leading up to Election Day, opponents of Berkeley’s soda tax did not have a chance – 75.12 percent of the city’s voters went for Measure D, which taxes distributors of sugary drinks at a rate of one cent per ounce.

“Yes on D” supporters rallied on election night at the campaign headquarters in downtown Berkeley awaiting results.

The crowd, which included grassroots campaign workers and community activists, gathered to express their gratitude towards the community and to the campaign leaders.

Speakers of the event included Dr. Vicki Alexander, Martin Bourque, Dr. Xavier Morales, and Larry Tramutola.


According to Josh Daniels of Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition, “Yes on D” handed out 2,000 lawn signs and counted 10,000 unofficial yes votes before election. He said this “campaign was special” because of the diversity and support coming from all corners of the city.

Josh Daniels
Josh Daniels

Solidarity was pivotal for the “Yes on D” campaign, said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center. “It’s rare that we have such consensus about political issues in Berkeley. In spite of the fact that we’re in a deep drought in California, there’s no shortage of opinions,” he said.

Berkeley’s Measure D imposes a 1-cent-per-ounce general tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and sweeteners used to flavor drinks. The measure did not dedicate funding to a specific cause and required only a majority of the vote.

Similarly, Berkeley’s measure makes exemptions for diet drinks, milk products, 100 percent juice, baby formula, alcoholic drinks taken for medical reasons, and sugary drinks and sweeteners distributed to very small retailers.

The ballot measures instigated massive spending by Big Soda. The opposition, which TIME noted was almost entirely funded by the American Beverage Association, raised $9.1 million in San Francisco and $2.4 million in Berkeley, a hefty campaign price tag in a city of just 116,000 “The amount of money spent in Berkeley was outrageous, and represents a very negative trend in politics where outside interests are pouring in outrageous amounts of money, and I think people did have a reaction to that on this topic, and to the issue in general,” Bourque said.

When it comes to money and politics, he said “A big budget alone doesn’t make you right.”

In a report by The Daily Californian, the next steps for Tom Bates, Mayor of Berkeley and supporter of Measure D, is to work with the City Council and decide how to best allocate the collected revenue.

A similar bill in San Francisco, Proposition E, did not pass. The bill, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, received only 54.5 percent of the vote.



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