Richmond City Council to consider soda tax ballot measure

A version of this story first appeared in the Contra Costa Times

Richmond leaders hope to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in the city, and they want voters to approve a fee on local businesses’ sales of those products.

The city council on Tuesday will consider placing a measure on the November 6 ballot asking voters to approve an ordinance imposing a business license fee of one cent per ounce of sugar-sweetened beverages sold businesses within the city.  Grocery stores, markets, liquor stores, restaurants and any other vendor that sells the beverages would pay the tax.

Ritterman said the ordinance would require merchants who sell sugar-sweetened beverages or the condensed syrup to monitor ounces sold per year and pay one cent per ounce to the city. “It’s up to them whether to pass it on to consumers,” Ritterman said.

“It’s a smart plan, and we think it’s something that other cities can get on board with,” said Councilman Jeff Ritterman, who has lead the push for the resolution. “We want our merchants to transition toward promoting and selling more healthy products.”

The measure could generate $2 million to $8 million in additional annual revenue, according to a city staff report.

Tuesday’s vote follows the council’s approval last November of a measure directing staff to craft a ballot measure imposing taxes on sugar-sweetened beverage sales.

Two council members, Corky Booze and Nat Bates, have been staunch opponents of any new tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, arguing that it will hurt local businesses and low-income consumers and have little effect on consumption.

“It’s a regressive tax on poor people and it won’t change a thing in terms of what they drink,” Booze said. “We need more grocery stores and restaurants in Richmond, and Ritterman wants to add a new tax on doing business in the city.”

In San Pablo, which borders Richmond, the city has a health component to their General Plan package, like Richmond, but has no plans for a similar tax, said San Pablo Councilman Paul Morris.

“I would rather see some educational promotions on how detrimental these drinks are, rather than imposing a tax, which smacks of nanny city type of thing,” Morris said.

If it passes in November, the Richmond’s local ordinance could be the first of its kind in the nation, Ritterman said. Ritterman added that if the council on Tuesday approves putting ballot measure to voters in November, he will begin appealing to other municipalities in West Contra Costa County and Alameda County to consider similar legislation.

Tuesday’s item continues a trend of firsts for the Richmond council. Last June, Richmond became the first city in Contra Costa County to approve municipal identification cards, which would be available to all residents. Earlier this year, Richmond became the first city in California to endorse a statewide “millionaire’s tax” ballot measure.

“We pride ourselves on being innovative, on being out in front,” said Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who said Monday that she will support Ritterman’s agenda item.

One Comment

  1. Richard Poe

    We should slow down and look at the impact of our actions. Are more taxes always the answer? As an example we know most job creation is from small businesses. Think about Richmond’s endorsement of a millioniar tax. If a small business makes a million a year as an owner of the small business he/she is now subject to this proposes millioniar tax , what happens as they have to pay maybe up to an additional 5 percent in taxes in California ? Does the small business now hire more people or lay off people? Do they move out of state ? Let’s say this small business sells soda , what is the accumulative effect of all these taxes ? How does a tax affect our unemployment rate? Richmond has 17 percent unemployment correct? Studies have shown an increase in taxes means a decrease in employment. The key to good health is education agreed. The question becomes what is the best way to achieve good health. A wise man said , the key to good health is a job.

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