This is pretty big deal. Yesterday, Berkeley, California became the first city in the United States to pass a soda tax when voters overwhelmingly voted to approve Measure D. With skyrocketing rates of diabetes and obesity, the passage of Measure D turns the tide for better health by putting in place a penny-per-ounce tax of most sugary beverages sold within city limits.
What is perhaps most exciting about the passage of the soda tax is that it’s a powerful testament to what is possible when people get together and flex their citizen muscles in the face of insane amounts of corporate spending. The soda industry flooded the tiny city of Berkeley with misleading ad campaigns and outspent local organizers 10-to-1 in an attempt to turn voters against the soda tax. Berkeley-resident and champion of democracy Robert Reich did a fabulous video synopsis of the Berkeley vs. Big Soda debate that you can watch here. Despite spending nearly $30 per voter, Big Soda was no match for the people power of Berkeley residents who wanted the tax put in place. As Dr. Vicki Alexander, one of the co-chairs working for the soda tax, noted “Berkeley has proven that a community that comes together can prevail against giant corporate interests.”
Berkeley’s soda tax is the first of more than 30 attempted soda taxes in the U.S. to actually pass. We’re sure there will be plenty of folks who dismiss this victory as an “only-in-Berkeley” phenomenon, but let’s remember that Berkeley has led the way before with non-smoking sections in restaurants and curbside recycling and all sorts of other good stuff. It’s also worth noting that Mexico passed a similar tax earlier this year and soda sales have already gone down 10 percent.
A huge hooray to all the Berkeley voters who flexed their citizen muscles and voted yesterday and extra special congratulations to our friends and neighbors at the Ecology Center and all the folks behind the Yes on Measure D campaign who worked tirelessly to win this one for the people.