The nine members of the panel of experts were nominated to the position by various Berkeley council and community members, and represent an array of professions and community health interests. Photo: Emily Dugdale

A new Berkeley “panel of experts” charged with allocating money collected from the city’s recently implemented soda tax convened for the first time Tuesday night, electing Jennifer Brown and Xavier Morales as chair and vice chair, respectively.

Brown, a parent and soda tax activist, and Morales, executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, will lead the nine-person panel, officially titled the “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts,” in bi-monthly or monthly meetings that will establish the direction of funding from Berkeley’s new sugar-sweetened beverage tax, which was approved by voters in November.

“This moment right now is probably the biggest moment we’ve ever been in,” panel member and health activist Joy Moore said to her peers.

A small group of community members were present at the meeting, at the North Berkeley Senior Center, including Berkeley City Council members Laurie Capitelli and Linda Maio, and Berkeley School Board Member Josh Daniels.

“We’re all in a fishbowl built out of a magnifying glass,” Capitelli told the panel of activists, health professionals and parents, referring to the national attention the soda tax has garnered and the strong community interest in the work about to be done.

On Monday, Capitelli and other council members announced that the soda tax had brought in $116,000 in its first month.

The new panel hopes to establish a vision statement and plan for community engagement over the next few weeks.

The biggest issue on the panel’s plate is submitting its initial budget, which needs to be approved by the Berkeley City Council by June 30. Council voted in favor of directing $500,000 from the General Fund, to be repaid in full by soda tax revenues, to programs determined by the panel. Panel members themselves are not compensated in any way.

Council asked the panel earlier this month to direct $250,000 to the school district “to ensure that total school site programming offered to students through the Cooking and Gardening Program for 2015-16 exceeds that which was supported by the District in 2014-15.” Council also asked that the panel bring back recommendations for the rest of the money by Oct. 1.

While the group will propose recommendations for soda tax revenue, it is council alone that will approve or reject where the money ultimately goes.

Daniels spoke briefly on behalf of the school board during Tuesday’s public comment period when he requested that the panel decide on funding for the school district before BUSD’s June 10 budget deadline. “The school district needs to feel comfortable by June 10 that the commission is going to recommend the $250,000 to BUSD,” Daniels told Berkeleyside.

Daniels said the panel does not need to submit its recommendation to council by that time, nor does the district need to receive funding by that date. It simply needs to have “some sense” that the panel is comfortable allocating the money so BUSD can include it in its upcoming budget proposal.

Panel members appeared anxious to begin work on developing a framework for funding recommendations, as well as a format for presenting information to the interested public. And city officials said they were relying on the group to get the job done.

“You are our brain trust,” Councilwoman Maio told the panel. “We have to do this right.”

The panel meets next June 3 from 6-8 p.m., but the location has not yet been determined. The group plans at that time to develop its approach for community engagement, collect information about prevention strategies and craft a vision statement. In the future, the panel may also consider a suggestion by member Poki Namkung to create a children’s health trust, a dedicated fund focused on children’s health concerns.

Who’s who on Berkeley’s soda tax panel of experts

The nine members of the panel of experts were nominated by Berkeley council and community members, and represent an array of professions and community health interests.

  • Jennifer Brown, panel chair, is a Berkeley parent and health activist who was active in the Measure D soda tax campaign. She was nominated by Berkeley Councilman Max Anderson.
  • Xavier Morales, panel vice chair, is the executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and longtime community health and social justice advocate. He was nominated by Councilman Darryl Moore.
  • Pat Crawford is an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as director of the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health. She was nominated by Councilwoman Susan Wengraf.
  • Nancy Fenstermacher is a dentist in Berkeley. She was nominated by Councilwoman Linda Maio.
  • Joy Moore is a longtime community food activist and an instructor with the gardening and cooking program at BUSD. She was nominated by Councilman Kriss Worthington.
  • Poki Namkung is a former public health officer for Berkeley and Santa Cruz County. She was nominated by Councilwoman Lori Droste.
  • Bobbie Rose is a pediatric public health nurse and educator for the California Sudden Infant Death Program. She was nominated by Councilman Laurie Capitelli.
  • Holly Scheider is a public health advocate and previously was the outreach manager for the Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition. She was nominated by Councilman Jesse Arreguin.
  • Julie Sinai is a former Berkeley School Board member and was nominated by Mayor Tom Bates.

Sign up for updates on the city website about the panel’s work and upcoming meeting information.

Berkeley seeks experts for ‘soda tax advisory panel (01.06.15)
Op-ed: We trust officials to spend soda tax money wisely (10.01.14)
Soda distributors frustrated at city of Berkeley’s lack of guidance on soda tax (03.02.15)
Why Berkeley passed a soda tax while other cities failed (11.05.14)
Op-ed: The Berkeley tax may have passed, but the campaign has not ended for Big Soda (03.19.15)
Campaign donations reach record levels in Berkeley (10.07.14)

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Emily Dugdale, a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside.

Emily Dugdale is a journalist and graduate student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. She previously lived in Oakland and contributed to local news publications...