Two high-school students on their lunch break carry food and drink out of the McDonald’s on University Avenue in Berkeley. Photo, taken on Monday Oct. 20, 2014, by Gael McKeon
Berkeley will continue its fight against sugary drinks in 2016. Photo: Gael McKeon (file photo)

Officials voted Tuesday night to step up the fight against sugary drinks in Berkeley by boosting public health staffing, helping pay for school nutrition programs and funding grants to help limit the impacts of, and access to, sugar-sweetened beverages.

The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to allocate $1.5 million from the general fund in the coming fiscal year to those efforts. The vote was in response to a request from a citizen board, the “Sugar Sweetened Beverage Products Panel of Experts,” which has been working since last May to come up with recommendations to guide the city following the successful passage of Measure D, a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on drinks with added sweeteners such as sodas, and energy and coffee drinks.

Berkeley was lauded as the first city in the nation to pass a tax on sugary drinks. The measure was approved with 75% of the vote in November 2014.

Read complete Berkeleyside coverage of the soda tax.

Since tax collection began last May, the city has brought more than $1.2 million into the general fund, staff said Tuesday night. Council members said they want to do their best to align any spending plans with tax revenues, though all the money is technically part of the general fund.

Panel members had asked the city to allocate $2 million toward public health and nutrition efforts in the coming fiscal year. Councilman Laurie Capitelli described the $2 million ask as “aggressive,” and said he and Linda Maio came up with the $1.5 million figure as an alternative.

(Maio was absent for the soda tax discussion and subsequent vote due to illness, though she was in attendance Tuesday until about 9:30 p.m.)

Attendance was sparse Tuesday night be the time of the soda tax vote, with only about a dozen community members still in attendance. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Attendance was sparse Tuesday night be the time of the soda tax vote, with only about a dozen community members still in attendance. Photo: Emilie Raguso

In the Capitelli-Maio proposal, the Berkeley Unified School District will receive $637,500 for its nutrition programs in 2016-17; the district will have to report back by September 2017 with an analysis of program impacts, to include a breakdown of how it spent the money. That’s on top of $250,000 the city gave the district last summer for its popular cooking and gardening program in 2015-16.

The city plans to disburse another $637,500 to community agencies seeking grants designed to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, and address their effects. The city’s health officer, Janet Berreman, described to council Tuesday night the seriousness of those effects, quoting a 2014 Bloomberg article in which researchers found that 40% of Americans born from 2000 to 2011 will develop diabetes.

Berreman said, too, that epidemics of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and poor oral health have been linked to excessive sugar consumption, but that those problems can be prevented through effective public health campaigns.

“While there is no single cause for the rise in diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay, there is overwhelming evidence of the link between the consumption of sugary drinks and the incidence of diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay,” according to the panel’s report to council. A 20-ounce bottle of soda, the report continues, typically has the equivalent of about 16 teaspoons of sugar.

Grant applicants should focus on vulnerable populations, including children and their families, “with a particular emphasis on young children who are in the process of forming lifelong habits”; individuals with limited resources; groups with higher than average levels of diabetes, obesity and tooth decay rates; and groups that are disproportionately targeted by beverage industry marketing. (See Attachment 2 for more detail.)

The rest of the allocation, $225,000, will be used to help oversee the grants. The city said it would like to add two one-year positions to its public health division: a program manager and an epidemiologist and evaluation coordinator.

Children pose outside a Yes on D sign put up by Jan Cecil outside her house on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley — one of many efforts in a city-wide pro-soda tax campaign that led to its overwhelming victory. Photo: Berkeley vs Big Soda
Berkeley kids, seen here supporting the 2014 Measure D campaign, will be among the big winners following Tuesday night’s council vote to allocate $1.5 million for health efforts in 2016-17. Photo: Berkeley vs Big Soda
Berkeley kids, seen here supporting the 2014 Measure D campaign, will be among the big winners following Tuesday night’s council vote to allocate $1.5 million for health efforts in 2016-17. Photo: Berkeley vs Big Soda

In the resolution approved Tuesday, city officials said they hope to combat the “hundreds of millions of dollars” spent by soda companies “in an ongoing massive marketing campaign, which particularly targets children and people of color.”

Jennifer Brown, chair of the panel on sugary drinks, told council that black residents in Berkeley are 14 times more likely than white residents to be hospitalized for diabetes. She said, further, that 40% of ninth-graders at Berkeley High are either overweight or obese.

Councilmen Max Anderson and Darryl Moore said the city needs to keep its focus on Berkeley’s most vulnerable communities when making funding decisions going forward.

Council also voted Tuesday night about how to use another $225,000 it had “forwarded” to the panel of experts last year. About $25,000 will be used for “mini-grants” of up to $10,000 this fiscal year. Another $125,000 will be used to set up the 2016-17 grant program. About $30,000 will be spent on branding, including a logo and website, for the program. And $70,000 will be used for outreach and education, including advertisements in “BART stations, … bus shelters, buses, and other media outlets.”

That brings the city’s total funding allocations to fight sugary drink consumption through June 2017 to $2 million.

Capitelli said his office has received inquiries from other cities, such as Boulder, Davis, San Francisco and Seattle, that are looking into their own soda taxes.

“We truly are under the microscope, a lot of people are looking at us,” he said Tuesday night.

Maio said Wednesday that she was happy about the vote, and grateful for the work of the volunteer panel. She said the money would allow the school district to restart programs lost due to funding shifts in recent years, and said a lot of money will now go out into the community through programs and grants.

“We’ve learned a lot, and we are pioneering what works because we really have been in the forefront here,” she said, adding, of the vote: “It’s just so great that it happened.”

Update, Feb. 11: The city has posted the monthly breakdown through November 2015 of soda tax revenues.

Soda tax brings needed cash to gardening program (06.08.15)
Berkeley’s new soda tax panel begins its work (05.20.15)
Soda tax raises $116,000 of revenue in first month (05.18.15)
Op-ed: The tax may have passed, but the campaign has not ended for Big Soda (03.19.15)
Soda distributors frustrated at city of Berkeley’s lack of guidance on soda tax (03.02.15)
Around $3.4M spent on Berkeley soda tax campaign (02.05.2015)
Dollar Tree pulls soda off shelves after soda tax (01.26.15)
Berkeley seeks experts for ‘soda tax’ advisory panel (01.06.15)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...