Council had a long discussion on Tuesday related to revenue measures. After hearing from numerous representatives of the business community and the beverage industry, Mayor Dan Wolk surprised many by quickly retreating from his long-held support of children’s health issues – instead focusing on infrastructure needs.
Mayor Wolk used his prerogative as mayor to jump ahead of his colleagues in an effort to frame the message. He said, “We’re here tonight because council is concerned about the state of our community assets.”
He said that any revenue measure needs to address infrastructure, needs to have been studied and have public input, and finally needs to be successful at the ballot.
While Mayor Wolk trumpeted his record on public health concerns, he stated, “In my mind, the soda tax does not meet those three requirements,” noting, “I think we’ve had a taste of the opposition here tonight.”
Given Mayor Wolk’s emphasis on children’s health issues, the move caught many off guard.
Dr. Harold Goldstein told the Vanguard on Friday that CalBev is already in Davis, simply based on two paragraphs in the local paper and he expected them to spend $2 million against the soda tax in Davis.
Neil Ruud, a local activist in support of the measure told the Vanguard, “We were told to expect the sugary beverage industry’s intimidation tactics early on in the process, but it always surprises me how much influence big money can have.” He added, “It’s good to know that Davis is a community where grassroots support is really the most important thing.”
Watch the comments of Mayor Dan Wolk as he announced his opposition to a soda tax at this time:
Meanwhile, it was Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis who delivered a tour de force on the need for the soda tax and the need to put health issues as a priority in the city.
“Each generation has its public health challenges,” Robb Davis stated. “My generation it was cigarettes and a tax on cigarettes was going to destroy small businesses,” he said, pointing to the audience. “And it hasn’t and we’re healthier.”
He said while sugar is everywhere, “what we have in a sugary beverage is we have a delivery system… it’s almost like a cigarette in terms of what it gets, it gets sugar to your pancreas in a hurry.”
Mayor Pro Tem Davis added, “It is causing the public health crisis of this generation. That is our crisis, there is no other. Some people are living with it, some of you are going to die from it, or your kids are.”
Watch his entire comments here:
In a motion that covered both the parcel tax and TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) tax but ruled out the utility user tax, Brett Lee put forward a motion to have staff come back with additional information on the soda tax, arguing that the staff report was sufficient on the other two taxes.
After defeating a substitute motion, three councilmembers in the end were willing to push forward with the soda tax – Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, and Councilmembers Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs. Mayor Dan Wolk and Councilmember Rochelle Swanson were ready to end consideration of that tax and voted against it. Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs felt it premature to place it on the ballot immediately, but didn’t want to preclude it.
Councilmember Lee stated, “It might be a little premature to actually vote to place it on the ballot today but I do not think it’s premature to ask staff to provide additional information so that we can consider it for a June 2016 ballot.” He argued that we should not take a partial approach off the ballot.
Councilmember Lee favored a parcel tax over the utility user tax, stating, “At this point, I’m ready to cross it off the list. Our utility bills are high enough.”
As council was sorting out how to approach this multitude of issues, City Manager Dirk Brazil suddenly complained that council was asking for too much work.
The Vanguard will have more details on the tax measures in the coming days.
—David M. Greenwald reporting