San Francisco and Berkeley nestle on the opposite side of the country from Manhattan, but they’re all kindred spirits. City officials in these Bay Area bastions of bean sprout do-gooderism are attempting to accomplish what Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, couldn’t. They want to dry up soda pop once and for all. (White wine is OK.)
Mr. Bloomberg’s attempt to ban the Big Gulp fizzled in the courts, so the pious left has turned to the thing they like best, a tax. San Francisco will ask voters this fall to approve an increase in the price of a 12-ounce can of the likes of Pepsi-Cola or Dr Pepper by nearly a quarter. Berkeley will ask to add 67 cents to the cost of a 2-liter bottle of belly wash. All drinks sweetened with sugar, including energy drinks and sports drinks of whatever size, would be subjected to the levies.
The tax would raise millions — for the children, or so they say. These cities say they want to discourage soda-drinking to cut down on childhood obesity. Rather than rely on parents to control what kids drink, the busybodies know what’s best for everyone.
Berkeley’s City Council decided against designating this as a “special tax” that would have limited the use of the money to purposes such as school nutrition programs. That would have required a two-thirds-majority vote for approval, which the council figured it could never achieve. By designating it as a general tax, with proceeds to the general fund, it will require only a simple majority. The councilmen can spend it as they please. San Francisco will require the two-thirds vote.
The news website Berkleyside reports that the Berkeley City Council is girding for a fight. “It will be a daunting task,” fumes councilman Laurie Capitelli, “because the sugar industry … will throw millions and millions of dollars at this.”
The American Beverage Association points out that the tax doesn’t do what its proponents say it will. “The notion that taxing soda would reduce obesity is pie in the sky,” Californians for Food and Beverage Choice notes on its Facebook page. “States with an excise tax on soft drinks — such as West Virginia and Arkansas — continue to rank in the top 10 most obese states in the country, while states with no soda tax, such as Colorado and Vermont, rank among the least obese states.”
The Berkeley councilmen are playing the old reliable, the race card, which liberals often play with the gusto of segregationists in the Old South. Since black residents of Berkeley are said to be four times more likely than whites to suffer diabetes, opposing the soda tax is racist. Wicked retailers are said to aim “cheap sodas” at thirsty minorities.
Pop bans aren’t popular. They’ve failed in two other California cities, El Monte and Richmond, suggesting that the proponents of the bans are fighting uphill, even in San Francisco and Berkeley, where the chemo look is highly prized. If the soda Nazis can’t make it there, they can’t make it anywhere.