Mayor Wolk Backs Off Support of Soda Tax (Video)

Big Sugary Drink BanCouncil 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

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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45 Comments

  1. SODA

    Sorry, am away and cannot stream the video; what was the outcome? Did the 3-2 vote prevail to get more info and aim for a June vote? What made Dan back off? Hope you will include a commentary on this in future as it is a departure from his plank of children’s health, etc. I am disappointed.

    1. neilruud

      The vote was 3-2 on a motion put forward by Brett Lee, amended by Robb Davis, and supported by Lucas Frerichs to ask staff to provide them with more information on a potential parcel tax, transient occupant tax (TOT), and the sugary drink tax– putting more emphasis on additional information on the sugary drink tax since staff is already familiar with parcel taxes and the TOT. All would be considered for placement on the June ballot but they made it clear that one, two, or none could end up on the June ballot.

        1. neilruud

          He laid out a framework at the beginning of the session that any revenue measures considered for the June ballot last night had to meet three qualifications:

          Something that will be successful at the ballot.
          Something that addresses infrastructure, and
          something that has been studied and had public input.

          He didn’t believe that the tax meets those benchmarks but I think the assumption that the sugary drink tax doesn’t meet those qualifications is premature at best as we still have some time before council has to make a final decision.

    1. Davis Progressive

      yes, it’s a good thing that dan caved at the first sign of protest.  that makes me real confident as he goes forward – whether you agree with this particular issue or not.

  2. Alan Miller

    I was most surprised Dan backed off because Lois showed up two weeks ago to support the tax.  Shows the accusation of them being always on the same page is not absolute.

    Was most disappointed in Rob Davis’ rant on the sugar tax.  I am in agreement on the food aspect of public health; I am personally horrified at US social values on crap-food consumption.  However, taxing the food sin is not something I agree with, the rhetoric of “sugar delivery system” is not something I can take seriously, and the lack of equating all sugary sin, such as funnel-cake or trans-fat or lard-fried donuts — I don’t buy it.  You don’t teach people good food habits by demonizing a single product; healthy eating is a whole lifestyle.  Also, young people are already drinking less soda as a whole; there are an ever-growing number of drink options (Red Bull?).  It was like Rob turned into Mr. Raving Public Health Man.  I agree with his sentiments and appreciate his passion, but I can’t stomach the methods of the “pubic health community” that he apparently aligns himself with on these issues.  Reminds me of the pro-F-word community rhetoric.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it were largely the same people.

    1. Matt Williams

      Alan Miller said . . . “I can’t stomach the methods of the “pubic health community” that he apparently aligns himself with on these issues.”

      Robb doesn’t “align” himself with the public health community.  He is a public health professional.  He doesn’t just talk the talk of public health, he walks the walk, and he has been walking that walk for over 25 years.

      1. Alan Miller

        Robb doesn’t “align” himself with the public health community.  He is a public health professional.  He doesn’t just talk the talk of public health, he walks the walk, and he has been walking that walk for over 25 years.

        What is your point?

    2. Tia Will

      Alan

      the rhetoric of “sugar delivery system” is not something I can take seriously,”

      You mean that you do not believe that people can consume more sugar in the form of beverages in a day than they could consume in the form of funnel cakes, or cookies, or candy bars ?  Really ! I used to readily down 4 12 oz sodas during the course of a day. How many people do you know that consume that much sugar in the form of these other goodies daily ? You don’t believe in the more rapid absorption of sugars from the digestive tract if they are unaccompanied by other nutrients in the tract at the same time ?  These are not issues for debate. These are the way the body works. Why do you think that you can have liquids closer to the time of surgery than solid foods. It is precisely the bodies rate of absorption that makes this necessary.

      1. Alan Miller

        There are many things that are bad for you.  Soda may be bad, so place it in the curriculum.  It doesn’t take a tax to add a health fact to a curriculum.  A tax does give mega dollars to marketing firms that thrive off such government campaigns.

         

        1. Tia Will

          Alan

          There are many things that are bad for you”

          So because many things are bad for you, does that mean that none of them should be addressed individually ?  Soda has been in the “curriculum” for as long as I can remember. And while we are talking about mega dollars, I see no compunction on the part of vendors, distributors and producers of this substances to make “mega dollars” on the sales of a product that is enormously harmful and has no reddening nutritional value. Why are we not calling out the people who profit from these harmful substances?

    3. Tia Will

      Alan

      You don’t teach people good food habits by demonizing a single product; healthy eating is a whole lifestyle”


      And no one is claiming that you do. Of course healthy eating is a whole 
      lifestyle. Very easy straw men arguments you have knocked down. But the “public health community” that you disparage is already using the typical educational approaches. Individual doctors are already educating and referring patients to classes and for nutritional counseling. We have approached the schools and met with some success in changing to healthier menus. There has been a national campaign to increase physical activity and improve eating habits. Kaiser has partnered with some public health agency every year for at least the past ten to encourage healthier behaviors.

      What we have is an epidemic. There were many of you who criticized me during the Ebola scare because I felt that we were wasting millions of dollars on an extremely low probability threat. Most people who posted here felt that was an appropriate action for our government to take. But now, many of the same folks are saying that our government has no business becoming involved in the very real epidemic that we are experiencing, not the one we fear.

      I do not think that this measure along will turn the tide of obesity. But what we have learned over the past 10 years is that a comprehensive approach is necessary to effect change in complex behaviors. I see this as a small step in the right direction, which along with countless other small steps will eventually help us reach a tipping point towards healthier behaviors.

      Our mayor stated that what we have to concentrate on at this time are the assets of our community. I could not agree more. I just believe that our most precious asset is the health of the members of our community.

      1. Jim Frame

        Very likely the beverage industry, they are already throwing money into this stuff

        That could explain Dan’s decision to back away from it.  The California Beer & Beverage Distributors gave Lois $1,000 for her 2012 campaign, so I imagine they’re on Dan’s list to tap for his Assembly race.

      2. Barack Palin

        You couldn’t tell from the questions asked if it was pro or anti soda tax.  The questions went both ways trying to get a feel for how I felt.  My guess is David is right simply because I doubt that the city is already polling.

        The average citizen would never come up with the idea of a soda tax.  Once again we have a minority of busy body activists pulling the city council strings.

  3. skeptical

    It appears Dan is dodging the soda tax out of his interests in the Assembly seat, and that Dirk was trying to assist by claiming staff did not have the time to prepare for the soda tax proposal.  Time for a City Manager???

  4. Misanthrop

    Full court press from the pro diabetes lobby. i thought it was interesting how many business people complained about increasing costs. Among them they mentioned health insurance never recognizing that if less soda was consumed their health care premiums would be lower. Diabetes is a very expensive disease in the over all cost driving health insurance premiums.

    1. Mark West

      “if less soda was consumed their health care premiums would be lower.”

      If we banned the sale of all sugar containing foods and food-like substances in Davis, it would have no measurable impact on the incidence of diabetes in the community, let alone impact health care premiums.  Your argument is complete nonsense.

      High fructose corn syrup is the problem.  If we managed to remove that from the food chain we would make a measurable impact on the incidence of diabetes in the population, but that has to happen on a State-wide, or nation-wide level to be effective, not one or two cities. The sugar tax is just another way to take money out of your pocket and give it to the City so that the City Council can use it to increase total compensation for employees.

      Removing fructose from your diet is a great idea, taxing sugar containing drinks is not.

      1. Misanthrop

        “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

        You are being too technical and trying to be too smart for the public good, most soda is made with corn syrup and drinks with corn syrup added would be included. Even so, corn syrup may be worse than sugar in drinks but consuming less sugar in soda would help the general health as well.

        Davis alone imposing this type of sin tax won’t make much of a difference on the overall diabetes rate that determines health care premiums but you need to start somewhere.

        As for meeting the infrastructure needs of Davis this might not be a total solution but its a twofer, you get money for needed improvements while also getting a marginal improvement in public health.

        But I wonder with your view how you would fund the needed infrastructure in Davis?

        1. Barack Palin

          But I wonder with your view how you would fund the needed infrastructure in Davis?

          I guess one could do it the liberal activist way, single out a product, vilify it, come up with every argument imaginable to try and sway voters, then tax it.

      2. Tia Will

        it would have no measurable impact on the incidence of diabetes in the community, let alone impact health care premiums. “

        This is speculative on your part. No one knows what the actual impact will be because it has not been tried in a city comparable to Davis. I agree that the impact will be small if this remains limited to one to two cities. However there are several points I would make.

        Some impact may be had just from the increased awareness of the issue. I see being in a leadership role on a public health issue of this magnitude as a definite plus. Every initiative starts somewhere. I think that this one is a particularly good fit for Davis.

        While I agree that high fructose corn syrup is a problem. It is not the only problem.

         

        1. Mark West

          “This is speculative on your part.”

          Tia, has the incidence of diabetes in the citizens of Berkeley changed one iota in the time since their sugar tax was implemented?  The speculation here is coming from you and the so-called ‘public health’ community who are looking for quick fixes to problems that require long-term investments.  A local sugar tax will have no impact on diabetes in the community because any products impacted by the tax will be readily available just down the road at the old price. This is entirely a method to raise taxes while bamboozling the public into thinking that it is doing something good.

          “I see being in a leadership role on a public health issue of this magnitude as a definite plus.”

          It is important to remember that it was the public health community, and practitioners such as yourself, who advocated to remove fat from our diets, which in turn lead to manufacturers adding more sucrose (table sugar) to make the low-fat foods palatable and the subsequent shift to high fructose corn syrup as a cheaper form of sweetness. There is a direct connection between the public health community’s’efforts against fat in the diet’over multiple decades and the increase in diabetes in the community.

          I think those wishing to take a ‘leadership’ role in public health issues such as this might first consider learning something about human physiology and how our bodies process foods.

           

        2. Davis Progressive

          “has the incidence of diabetes in the citizens of Berkeley changed one iota in the time since their sugar tax was implemented? ”

          mark, seems to be a few things here.  first, too soon i would think to tell on diabetes.  second, do you believe that the campaign against smoking has worked?  if so, do you believe a similar model could work on sugary drinks?  you call it a quick fix, but you have to start somewhere.  when little towns in the late 80s and early 90s went about banning smoking inside, you might have made the same argument, but it became a trend.

        3. Mark West

          DP:

          The drop in cigarette usage did not come about because of a local tax on tobacco just as the consumption of sugar will not be impacted by this proposed tax.  That is all I am arguing here.  I agree with the desire to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet, especially added fructose, but there is no evidence or logical reason to believe, that the proposed tax will have any impact on sugar intake or the incidence of diabetes in the community. This proposed tax is not a health initiative and claiming that it is, does more harm than good.

          What this proposed tax will do, without any doubt, is add to the perception that Davis is anti-business.

  5. Tia Will

    BP

    I guess one could do it the liberal activist way, single out a product, vilify it, come up with every argument imaginable to try and sway voters, then tax it.”

    As with cigarettes, it does not take any imagination at all to “vilify” sodas. They have no nutritional value and have a highly deleterious affect. What “good” do you see in them other than a very temporary pleasure that there are many healthful ways to obtain ?

  6. Davis Progressive

    something i thought of is that as powerful as we like to make the wolk machine, perhaps not so much if the hint of opposition from the beverage industry leads wolk to turn his back on his issue.  i guess it will be interesting to see the disclosures – the problem is that by the time we see them, it will be too late.  we need an instant disclosure requirement.

  7. Tia Will

    The speculation here is coming from you and the so-called ‘public health’ community who are looking for quick fixes to problems that require long-term investments.”

    First, a quick fix is the last thing that I am looking for. I have been counseling on healthy lifestyles for the past 30 years. In this criticism you are clearly wrong as I am sure that I have been working on this specific issue for longer than anyone who posts here unless one of you is a doctor or nutritionist.

    I think those wishing to take a ‘leadership’ role in public health issues such as this might first consider learning something about human physiology and how our bodies process foods.”

    And what I think is that an open mind and willingness to keep reading and being responsive to new information is one of the hallmarks of a good doctor. If your doctor has not changed any of their counseling or advice in the past 30 years, then I recommend changing doctors as that is a sign that your doctor is not keeping up with current developments. Screening for cervical cancer, as one example, has changed dramatically over my tenure in medicine as what we thought was the best approach based on the information at the time has been superceded by  more current information.

    The drop in cigarette usage did not come about because of a local tax on tobacco”

    Of course it did not occur only because of the local tax, and no one is claiming that. What is true is that increasing taxes in community after community ( which of course has to start somewhere) along with many, many other steps. Again, neither of us knows what the outcome of such a tax will be. I would anticipate modest results, but I do not know that any more than you know that it will have no effect.

    1. hpierce

      Uh… unless you mean the state of California, or the US govt., there has never been a “local tax” on tobacco (excepting possibly sales tax, applying to everything) in Davis.  Apples/oranges?

      Facts are good when making an argument.

       

  8. Robb Davis

    Comprehensive approaches that include education, public policy advocacy, and, in some cases like this one taxing substances that pose risks is what are necessary.  No one, least of all me, is in any way suggesting that this tax will in and of itself lead to change.  That would be ludicrous.  But it is important to deal with this issue and Davis can play a part.

    This reminds me in so many ways of the (now) decades-long fight (yes, fight) with the producers of breast milk substitutes who promoted their products as superior to breast milk.  The deathly repercussions of placing profit over morals was and is terrible to see (I have had mothers who lost children to malnutrition because they lacked the resources to mix the appropriate amount of formula with water, weep as they told me how they so desperately wanted to be “good moms” and thought using formula was the way to be a good mom).  Companies like Nestle used techniques analogous to what the beverage industry is using now to thwart change.

    The bottom line in that case was that change had to start somewhere, we all needed to be persistent, we needed to collect facts on the damage being done, we had to use the state to create the policy environment in which change could occur, and we needed to verify compliance (which is still a huge problem).

    Some of us have been on the front lines of such battles and understand that what we are doing in Davis is a single–but important–step in dealing with a key source of a major health epidemic.

  9. Misanthrop

    “It is important to remember that it was the public health community, and practitioners such as yourself, who advocated to remove fat from our diets, which in turn lead to manufacturers adding more sucrose (table sugar) to make the low-fat foods palatable and the subsequent shift to high fructose corn syrup as a cheaper form of sweetness.”

    Actually sugar price support in the U.S. to deflate world commodity prices for sugar in order to damage the Castro Regime in Cuba where sugar is a major export is what caused the shift to lower price corn syrup in soda. That failed right wing policy didn’t get rid of Castro but it did increase obesity and diabetes here at home.

    1. Barack Palin

       That failed right wing policy didn’t get rid of Castro but it did increase obesity and diabetes here at home.

      Damn!!!   It’s a right wing conspiracy.  Now I know why Davis liberals want to tax soda.  Why didn’t you just come out with it in the first place instead of this fallacy that it’s going to help eliminate diabetes and obesity.

      1. Misanthrop

        Not a right wing conspiracy but certainly an anti-castro policy that failed and had adverse health consequences for our kids.

        An interesting public debate on the topic between two giants of Wall Street happened recently. Warren Buffet said that price gouging at Valeant Pharmaceuticals was immoral and Bill Ackman countered by calling Buffet out for owning a big position in Coke and ignoring the adverse health impacts of soft drinks. I think they are both correct.

        Coke has used a tiny bit of its massive cash flow to promote junk science to obfuscate the health impacts of its products just like big tobacco has done with cancer and big oil has done with global warming.

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