Public Officials Come to Council Supporting Soda Tax

Sugary Beverage
Senator Wolk called for consideration of a soda tax in Davis
Senator Wolk called for consideration of a soda tax in Davis

On Tuesday night a number of public officials came to the city council in support of a proposed soda tax. These included public health officials, Senator Lois Wolk, former Assemblymember Helen Thomson and Former Mayor Ann Evans.

Dr. Harold Goldstein, the Executive Director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, with an office based in Davis, asked the council to “consider” putting a soda tax on the ballot in June, noting a “worldwide movement to begin taxing sugary drinks.”

“The main reason is that sugary drinks have no positive health benefit,” he said. He held up a jar of sugar demonstrating how much one jar of sugar a day would be a on weekly basis. “One twenty ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar,” he said, noting that sugar beverages are a leading contributor to obesity and diabetes.

He noted that part of the problem is that the body absorbs the sugar through liquid in as little as 30 minutes. The glucose, he explained “overwhelms the pancreas whose job is to balance (the body’s) sugar levels. The fructose turns to fat in (the) liver. The combination of burned out pancreas and fatty liver is what causes diabetes.”

“One-quarter of teenagers in this country now have diabetes or pre-diabetes,” he said. He added that his center will be releasing a report in the coming of months showing that a majority of Californians have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

“The benefit of a soda tax, as proven in Berkeley, the first city in the country to pass it, is you get to reduce consumption by raising the price and you get money as revenue that you can use to mitigate the harms caused by those products – so it is a win-win,” he continued. “It counteracts the beverage industries’ marketing. They’re spending half a billion dollars a year marketing to kids with taglines like ‘live for today’ as though teenagers need more encouragement to live for today.”

Former Davis Mayor Ann Evans called this initiative “particularly important for our community,” noting that Davis has “been a leader in so many key areas over so many decades.”

“I would encourage you to put a tax on soda on the ballot in June to further fund and put meaning behind the Children’s Agenda,” she said.

Ms. Evans noted some good news, citing an article that found that the rate of increase in diabetes is dropping. But she said, “In the same article they actually say that soda plays a central role in obesity and diabetes.”

“The doctors and public health officials are asking for a tax to be placed on ballots so that we can have a chance to vote on it and fund some important programming, perhaps that’s existing to a higher degree, perhaps with some scholarships targeting low income kids.”

Gina Daleiden appeared as the interim director of First 5 Yolo, whose mission is to help our community raise children who are healthy and ready to learn. She said that when First 5 Yolo heard of Dr. Goldstein’s sugar tax proposal, they “absolutely support that in concept.”

“First 5 Yolo stands here as a partner in prioritizing children and families,” she said. “We definitely would support in concept – we’d love to see the language- a tax that generates dollars for children’s health and their education.”

Senator Lois Wolk, also a former Davis Mayor, said, “I support your consideration of this issue.” She noted that for the last four years, “we have tried to deal with this issue of either taxing sugary beverages or putting labels on these beverages. We have not been successful in getting out of either the Assembly Health Committee or sometimes the Senate Health Committee.”

Senator Wolk continued, “I think it’s time for people to have their say.” She added that these considerations offer a real opportunity for the city of Davis – for the children and the public health of Davis.

Former County Supervisor and Assemblymember Helen Thomson also spoke in support of the proposed tax. She said, “It would be very helpful if there was the funding that could come into some of the programs that children need.”

Without the revenue source, Ms. Thomson said, it is difficult to do many of the programs that others have supported. She suggested the importance of designating the programs that would benefit from the soda tax.

She added, “I’m a Democrat and I happen to like taxes. I think they have a purpose. We are a democratic society and taxes can do good things for people.”

Back in May, Davis became the first city in the nation to make non-sugary drinks the default for children’s meals at restaurants.

At the time, Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis stated, “To me the ubiquity of sugar in our diets goes way beyond beverages [and] is just a testimony to a failed food system.” He likened it to a comment on the oil trains, “A lot of times there’s not a lot we can do locally against an onslaught, in this case, official government policy in the form of the farm bill to support the overproduction of corn which leads to more sugar.”

He continued, “There’s not much we can do as a city against the onslaught of an industry that knows how to push our genetic buttons the way we evolved on the savannah to like that thing that’s sweet and we could get it in small quantities, now we can get it in big. There’s not much we can do – and I think this is something we can do to raise our hand and say that we value the health of our community.”

The health of our children is the responsibility of the community, he said. “I do not see it as a civil liberties issue at all – we all pay the cost of these things. The default in our society is that every decision that limits in some way a person’s default behavior, which this doesn’t do, is an attack on our basic civil liberties. I reject that notion. We have public health priorities that we must meet.”

Back in December of 2014, the Vanguard pushed the notion of a one-cent sales tax on sugary drinks. In November, such a tax passed with three-quarters of the vote in Berkeley.

A Time Magazine article stated, “Proponents of the measure say the tax will curb the consumption of sodas, energy drinks and sweetened teas which are contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic and Type 2 diabetes. Harvard researchers found in a 2013 study that increasing the price of a 20 oz. soda by 20 cents led to a 16% sales drop.”

—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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  1. Barack Palin

    “I’m a Democrat and I happen to like taxes. I think they have a purpose. We are a democratic society and taxes can do good things for people.”

    Like take money out of people’s pocket so they can spend it on what they want and need?

  2. zaqzaq

    Use the soda tax revenue for the sports complex (soccer, baseball, … 50 meter pool) where the children can participate in athletic activities.  Triple the tax for soda sold on school sites.  While they are at it how about an alcohol tax to fund the police expenses resulting from the late night downtown bar scene.

  3. Tia Will


    Like take money out of people’s pocket so they can spend it on what they want and need?”

    I am sorry. I honestly do not understand your sentence. Who is the “they” you are referencing ? Is it the taxpayer or the politician that you are referencing with the word “they” ?


  4. Barack Palin

    While the liberal “we know what’s best for you” activists are at it why not tax


    ice cream?

    red meat?



    sugar cereals?




    the list is long…….

      1. Tia Will


        thanks for the factual information on “why pick soda”. The sugary beverages are by far the most common “treat” that is consumed on a daily as opposed to an occasional basis. As was pointed out at council sodas  have a direct, essentially undiluted effect on pancreatic function while not offering any redeeming nutritional value as some of the other treats listed by BP.

        What has not been mentioned is the additional deleterious effect that this quantity of sugar has on teeth. Added to this is that while many of us clean our teeth after each meal, it is rare to stop and brush ones teeth after “only” having had a soda.

        Sodas and other sweetened beverages are unique in the amount of harm they cause while being marketed as an innocuous “fun” product.

        My thanks to all who spoke in favor of this measure.

        1. Barack Palin

          So who’s really getting taxed with this?  As David often points out that people of less means are obese because they can’t afford more healthy foods.  So now you liberal do gooders want to make them pay even more for the products they buy because they can’t afford healthier options.

  5. Barack Palin

    Like some of us have been saying, once the foot is in the door first it’s fireplace smoke, then paper bags, then kid’s meal sodas, now taxing sodas, then etc….

    1. Davis Progressive

      first, they could have done this without any of those things passing.  second, the community still have to approve it via a vote – unlike any of the other things.  oh and i think you meant plastic not paper…

          1. Matt Williams

            BP, I will answer your question as soon as you answer the question that I posed to you on Monday just before Noon. If you don’t remember that question of mine, it was, “Have you personally ever run into a tax that you believed was fair?”

        1. Barack Palin

          Matt, I’m not running for city council.  It’s good for us voters to know where our candidates stand on these foolish measures.

          But that being said, we do have to have some taxes in order to run our society.  So yes, some taxation I’m good with.  But not taxation where we’re promised one thing and the money ends up going to public employees instead or dumb taxes on soda pop.

          1. Matt Williams

            BP, thank you for your answer. It helps.

            You have told me what kind of taxes you are not supportive of, and you and I agree 100% that a tax is “bad” where we are promised one thing and the money goes to something else. I have very recently put my actions behind those words at the Utility Users Tax (UUT) Focus Group convened by the City, where I,
            — Actively advocated against the UUT being a General Tax, and
            — Stated unequivocally that I would only support it if it was a Special Tax, which (A) explicitly spells out what the Tax must be spent on, and (B) requires a 2/3 majority of the voters to pass.
            I took those actions because I believe that is the only way we can build real accountability into the system, and with real accountability comes Fiscal Responsibility.

            Regarding whether a tax is dumb or not, I start by asking myself (1) is the tax “fair”? and (2) does the tax contribute in a meaningful way to Fiscal Responsibility? and (3) does the tax have unintended consequences? I looked at the Cannery CFD Tax with those three criteria, and found it failed on all three criteria.
            — It wasn’t “fair” that it was very possible that the buyers of homes in the Cannery would end up paying for the community facilities twice, once in the purchase price of their home and a second time when they paid the annual CFD tax.
            — It wasn’t fiscally responsible for the city because New Home and the City had already mutually agreed in the November 2013 development agreement, that New Home would pay for the construction of the community facilities. The additional $8 million CFD payment to New Home gave them value, and got no value back for the City in return. In addition, the City incurred $2 million of bond placement costs in order to give the $8 million to New Home … so it cost the community a total of $10 million give New Home $8 million.
            — In addition it had lots of unintended consequences. The annual CFD tax payments by the residents will be just over $1 million per year. That $1 million of spending power will not be spent at any Davis retail businesses or service companies. No purchases at Davis Ace or the Avid Reader or DeLuna Jewelers. No cups of coffee at Mishka’s or Common Grounds or Coffee Shots. No dinners at any of the local restaurants. No movies. No service purchases. Bottom-line, the CFD siphons $1 million of economic activity out of the local Davis economy for 30 years. That is a massive unintended consequence.

            So with that said, how does the tax on soda pop measure up? Is it “fair”? Probably. Does it contribute in a meaningful way to Fiscal Responsibility? Since it is such an easy tax to avoid paying, my suspicions are that any revenues it generates will decrease over time as people replace their soda consumption with consumption of beverages that are not subject to tax. Does it have any unintended consequences? Probably not.

            What criteria do you use to determine whether a tax is one of the ones we do have to have in order to run our society?

        2. Barack Palin

          So with that said, how does the tax on soda pop measure up? Is it “fair”? Probably. Does it contribute in a meaningful way to Fiscal Responsibility? Since it is such an easy tax to avoid paying, my suspicions are that any revenues it generates will decrease over time as people replace their soda consumption with consumption of beverages that are not subject to tax. Does it have any unintended consequences? Probably not.

          So is this your roundabout way of saying you’d be okay with a soda tax?

          1. Matt Williams

            No, it is not my roundabout way of saying that. I haven’t seen enough evidence to make an informed decision about a soda tax. As a result, any position on such a tax that I might take now would be nothing more than a political calculation . . . and, as I’ve said many times before, we need more evidence-based decision making and less political calculation.

            That is a “process answer” and based on lots of history I know that you are more of an “end results” kind of person. Based on the litlle that I know about the soda tax, it seems to me to have very little fiscal impact on the City budget. On the other hand it seems to be designed to achieve a social engineering result. Given the City’s pressing fiscal issues (dare I say crisis?), it is hard for me to get excited about a tax that isn’t going to make any meaningful fiscal difference on the City’s finances.

  6. Tia Will

    Frankly and BP

    what your comments about “stupid policy” tells me is that neither of you has an understanding of the cost effectiveness of prevention. We can choose, as we did with cigarettes to take societal action, including increased product taxes, to lessen our subsequent losses due to oral, pharyngeal, lung and bladder cancer, or we can continue to pay more on the treatment side once the disease is advanced. I guarantee you as a practicing physician that we will all have more for discretionary spending if we prevent diabetes from occurring than if we turn our societal blind eye and end up paying for the amputations, dialysis, renal transplants, blindness and other end organ failure that result from diabetes.

    I would think that you fiscal conservative types would be all in favor of this if for nothing more than financial reasons. Please remember this conversation when you start complaining about the costs of health care.

    1. Frankly

      From that article…

      Mexicans, for instance, are the fourth-biggest guzzlers of sugary drinks in the world, according to Euromonitor, a market-research firm. In 2012 more than 70% of Mexican adults and 34% of 5-11-year-olds were overweight.

      So we can just look at this as another cost-tax put on Americas to pay for our out of control immigration situation.

      Just kidding… sort of.  Both Hispanics and blacks have a higher incidence of obesity than do whites.

      The issue is education which has a direct correlation with income class.  The more educated, the more income and the fewer number of obese.

      The Relationship Based on General Trends

      – Based on a large national study, body mass index (or BMI, an indicator of excess body fat) was higher every year between 1986 and 2002 among adults in the lowest income group and the lowest education group than among those in the highest income and education groups, respectively (Truong & Sturm, 2005).

      – Wages were inversely related to BMI and obesity in a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 adults – meaning, those with low wages had increased BMI as well as increased chance of being obese (Kim & Leigh, 2010).

      The liberal mind seems to think in terms of fairness and moves to scarcity and forced behavior for all social problems.  For example, make personal money more scarce through taxation to help force people to stop doing bad things like drinking sugary drinks.  For the liberal mind the tragedy of the results of poor individual choice is a justification to diminish and/or destroy the ability to choose.

      The conservative mind thinks in terms of freedoms and moves to abundance of choice and information to support people making their own decisions and to accept responsibility for those choices.

      The liberal approach is the nanny state and a more matriarchal approach.  It sets up the soft bigotry of low expectations… and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as people learn that they don’t really have to suffer the consequences of their own poor choice since “mommy” will take care of them.

      The conservative approach is one that expects good behavior and good choice, and that “daddy” will not take care of them… they have to take care of themselves.  But that to take care of themselves they will provided with adequate information and coaching for what good choice is.

      The latter is in fact part of our traditional American values of self-reliance.

      The former is the European socialist approach.

      I would prefer that we put our eggs in the information and education basket and stop with this constant adding of rules and restrictions and taxes for all because some either don’t know enough or cannot control themselves.

      1. Tia Will


        The liberal mind seems to think in terms of fairness”

        I would prefer that we put our eggs in the information and education basket and stop with this constant adding of rules and restrictions and taxes for all because some either don’t know enough or cannot control themselves.”

        This liberal mind certainly does not think in terms of “fairness” as I just recently posted several times. This liberal mind does not like to exclude potentially helpful steps just because they do not conform to her ideology. I do not eliminate the possibility of one approach just because another approach might be more appealing to me. My eggs have been in the education basket for the past 34 years. I probably have done more dietary education that the rest of the posters here combined.  I think, to use your analogy, it is time to not put all of our eggs in the same basket, but rather to use a much broader approach, as we have done to slow but gradual improvement with the issue of cigarette smoking in which “our eggs were in many, many baskets” before we started seeing significant improvement.

  7. Tia Will


    Your comment about taxing sodas having a disparate impact on the poor simply does not hold up. The single best beverage for the human body is free and readily available to all in the form of water. Even the homeless have avalanility at water fountains in the parks. Sweetened beverages are not a “need” for anyone.

    1. Barack Palin

      Yes, it’s not a need, but it is a want.  Do you really think the poor will start drinking water instead of soda because they get an added tax?  All it’s doing is taking away a little more of their discretional income.

      1. Tia Will


        Do you really think the poor will start drinking water instead of soda because they get an added tax?  All it’s doing is taking away a little more of their discretional income.”

        What I know is that many of my patients who have  successfully stopped smoking have named the following amongst the factors that contributed to their stopping : knowledge of health risks ( the education piece), my or another doctor’s advice, the expense, the knowledge that if they did not spend the money on cigarettes, they could use it for something for their children. So yes, I do see this as an analogous situation, and I do believe that many of the poor will change their habits. Being poor does not make you less intelligent. I believe that as the price goes up they will choose to alter their purchasing habits. They will spend less on soda in order to have more discretionary money for other purchases.


  8. Barack Palin

    Herein lies the problem with obesity-related taxes. If they are set low enough to be politically acceptable, they are merely stealth taxes which make no difference to health, but if they are set any higher, they become politically toxic. To date, no country has seen non-trivial health benefits from taxing food or soft drinks at any level. The results are uniformly negative. Theoretically, very high taxes could have some effect, but this is unknown and the unintended consequences of very high tax rates would be severe in terms of making the poor poorer, fuelling the black market, driving inflation, and creating discontent amongst voters.

    1. Davis Progressive

      personally i think you use the model of the anti-smoking movement which is far more expansive than just taxes – it’s education and awareness coupled with taxes and smoking ordinances.

  9. Mark West

    This sounds like a great idea…just look at how successful sin taxes have been curbing bad behavior with alcohol, tobacco and gasoline.  We no longer have problems with binge drinking, lung cancer or speeding, right?  Panacea! (Maybe we should add a tax on powered subwoofers while we are at it).

    Cutting sugar from the diet is an extremely important goal for society, but it won’t happen through a local sugar tax.  Like all complex and difficult problems in society, it will take years of education and social change before we will have any real impact.  A local sugar tax won’t do a thing to change behavior, it will just give the City Council another pool of money to use for public sector job creation and compensation. I’m sure they will use the money wisely.

    1. Tia Will


      A local sugar tax won’t do a thing to change behavior”

      No one believes or is arguing that this is a  panacea. Individual physicians, medical groups, educators and our public health agencies have been steadily working on the issues of education over many years.What we are asking for is participation from our local communities in working with us on this issue in a combined effort much as was done with smoking, which has steadily decreased in this country with efforts on multiple levels.

      These were exactly the kinds of arguments that were used by the tobacco companies to try to block more education about the harms of smoking cigarettes and in attempts to block taxes on cigarettes. Will a local tax on sodas be a panacea that cures all diabetes?  Of course not. But it is definitely a very small step in the right direction.

      Of course we have still have problems with lung cancer, but the incidence is slowly but inexorably dropping as can be easily verified by check the CDC lung cancer trends from 2002 to 2011. Deaths have also dropped commensurately over the same interval, but I prefer to look at incidence since this is not affected by improved treatment modalities as mortality is.


      1. Mark West


        Any regular reader of this forum will know how much you love public health initiatives that sound great but don’t actually accomplish anything, especially when it means taking someone else’s money to push your personal agenda. A local soda tax will have zero impact on per capita sugar intake, and consequently, zero impact on public health. Just as sin taxes have had no impact on alcohol intake, tobacco usage or gasoline consumption.

        Sin taxes have been great for creating enlarging government and increasing public sector employment, but have done little or nothing towards improving public health. Changing behavior requires education and hard work, not taxes and ‘feel good’ initiatives.

        Have a great day!



        1. Tia Will

          Any regular reader of this forum will know how much you love public health initiatives that sound great but don’t actually accomplish anything”

          I would paraphrase this to read.

          Any regular reader of this forum will now how much I love public health initiatives that truly make a difference. It just happens that I understand that there are no big, sweeping all encompassing solutions and that problems frequently take many decades, not a few weeks to improve. I also understand, that in order to make progress, often it takes many small steps before one sees any results. That’s ok, I am used to meeting patients where there are and I am very, very patient.

  10. Barack Palin

    I buy soda once in a while.  I don’t need to buy it in Davis.  When I make my monthly trip to Costco I’ll just load up and Davis super markets will lose out on the sales.  Another stupid move by our local liberals if it comes to pass.

    1. Eric Gelber

      BP – It’s already cheaper to buy soda at Costco; but, you buy in Davis anyway. So, you are apparently OK with paying more if the costs are for business profits but not if the costs are to achieve a societal benefit.

      1. Barack Palin

        Now I might buy a liter occasionally at Safeway or Nugget.  If the soda tax ever gets approved I’ll make sure to load up at Costco.  So if we end up with an added soda tax it’s the grocery stores that lose.


  11. Don Shor

    What exactly would this tax fund, and how would the funding be guaranteed to go to those programs rather than into the general fund? The timing of these comments on the same night the council gave a pay raise is a little awkward.

  12. Anon

    From the article Robb Davis cited: “America have had extra sales taxes on fizzy drinks, of 3-7%. This has helped to raise revenue, but the impact on consumption has been marginal.

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