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Berkeley Residents Approve of Soda Tax on November Ballot

| March 18, 2014
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Lance Knobel
Berkeleyside

Proponents of a soda tax were out in force when Berkeley City Council first considered the measure last month. (Lance Knobel/Berkeleyside)

Proponents of a soda tax were out in force when Berkeley City Council first considered the measure last month. (Lance Knobel/Berkeleyside)

Berkeleyans seem eager to enact a new tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, but less likely to support other potential ballot measures being considered by the City Council.

A community survey of just over 500 voters taken last week showed healthy majorities for the so-called soda tax, whether it was for a new general tax or a special tax. In contrast, measures to increase the business license tax for landlords, establish a commercial vacancy tax, increase the parks parcel tax, and issue a pools bond failed to reach majorities or just crossed 50 percent support. City Council members said that support for measures often declines from levels indicated in community surveys.

“The sugar tax hit the sweet spot,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who is on the community committee pushing for the tax. “For me, it’s disappointing that the parks question in particular fared so poorly.”

Sixty-six percent of survey respondents approve of a tax with money directed toward the general fund.

Four of the questions on the survey focused on the sugar-sweetened drinks tax, which is expected to face a well-funded opposition from the beverages industry. When respondents were asked whether they would support a tax of 1 cent per ounce going to the general fund, 66 percent said yes. Asked about a special tax, with revenues dedicated to health and nutrition programs, 64 percent said yes. A general tax requires a simple majority vote, while a special tax requires two-thirds support.

Raising the tax to 2 cents per ounce reduced support to 55 percent for the general tax and 59 percent for the special tax. Reading respondents arguments for and against, before posing the question, produced very little change in the results.

A similar ballot measure is likely in San Francisco this November. San Francisco supporters are planning to focus on a special tax, despite the two-thirds hurdle. The measures on both sides of the bay are likely to attract a particular barrage of opposition from the beverage industry.

“Both of us having it on the ballot will work against us,” admitted Capitelli. He said the well-funded opponents will buy regional media.

In contrast, raising the parks parcel tax by 10 percent ($29 per year for an average 1,900 square foot house) attracted only 54 percent support. A parcel tax measure requires two-thirds support to pass. A proposal for a $25 million bond issue for pools and parks, including reopening Willard Pool, was supported by only 52 percent. For the measure to pass, it would need two-thirds majority in favor.

Survey respondents were also asked some general questions about Berkeley. Sixty-three percent said “things in the city of Berkeley are going in the right direction.” Only 13 percent said “things are on the wrong track” (24 percent responded “don’t know”).

When asked to rate the job Berkeley is doing providing city services, 14 percent responded excellent, 55 percent responded good. Slightly less than a quarter, 23 percent, said fair and 5 percent said poor.

When asked about areas where Berkeley might need to invest, 31 percent said providing affordable housing was extremely important, and 31 percent rated improving children’s health as extremely important. Only 7 percent said renovating swimming pools or improving parks and playgrounds was extremely important.

Forty-six percent of the respondents were men and 54 percent were women; 67 percent of respondents were white and 10 percent were black; 39 percent were over 60 and 20 percent were under 30. All respondents were required to be likely voters in the November 2014 election.

KQED News Associate Berkeleyside is an independently owned news website based in Berkeley, Calif. Click here if you would you like to receive the latest Berkeley news in your inbox once a day for free with Berkeleyside’s Daily Briefing email.

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