Council Caves on Soda Tax on 3-2 Vote

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Soda-Tax-Presser (12 of 14)

As a graduate student in political science at UC Davis, I often was a teaching assistant for a professor in American Government who would argue that, when the going got tough and a President wanted to kill an idea, they would assign it to a task force. While it may not have been the intention of the council majority last night to kill the soda tax, it effectively took the issue off the plate for now, by pushing it to a task force that will study the issue of sugar sweetened beverages and the council might act down the line.

As Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said, “I was very inspired by the Raise the Wage conversations earlier.” She cited the conversation that will emerge and go forward and argued, “Frankly, that is more the Davis way, we don’t have someone at public comment two week ago and suddenly we have it on the ballot.”

She continued, “Twenty-three years for Nishi, 36 years for the water project. We did half of what we wanted for parks tax because we wanted it to be success.”

Councilmember Swanson argued that we need to have a have a conversation and take a more wholistic approach to the issue.

“I really think we should have the conversation,” she said. “I want us to have a real conversation that involves a number of folks.”

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis called the sugary beverage tax “something we haven’t done in Davis before which is a public health intervention.” He said, “This is different – I’m not exactly sure why it’s different.”

He noted that “we’re hit coming and going. I hear the arguments that it doesn’t make any difference and then I hear the argument that it’s going to destroy business.” He added, “I don’t know how you can have it both ways.”

The mayor pro tem put a motion on the table, “I want to move that we put a one cent tax on the ballot. That we pattern it exactly after the Berkeley Model… That there be a small business exemption. That the social services commission and parks commission advise the council as to how to use proceeds from it.”

He added into the motion an advisory measure to indicate the intent to spend the measure on children’s health programs.

Councilmember Brett Lee seconded the motion. As he was discussing ways to tighten the small business exemption, he expressed sympathy for the public comments on the struggles of small businesses.

As he was discussing this however, Councilmember Rochelle Swanson put a substitute motion on the floor. She said, “I want to move that staff come back in two weeks and have a model similar to the Raise the Wage… so that there’s real outreach. I’m not comfortable with the anecdotal outreach.”

She said, “I worry that this is political and philosophical. I don’t want to exempt our way out of it if it’s really about raising money and it’s really about children’s programs. I think there’s a way to have a win-win here and educate the community while we decide what’s right for our community.”

Councilmember Swanson said, “This is really about it being the right fit and I don’t think six months’ time is really going to make or break some individual’s choices. I want to see us get it right.”

Councilmember Brett Lee said that he does not believe that the substitute motion is acceptable. He said, “Ultimately we have the window right now where the June election would allow a general tax to be placed on the ballot and if 50 percent plus one would like to do it, then it passes. We’re essentially asking for a two year delay on this if we don’t support putting it on in June.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs said, “I’m not supportive of the underlying motion this evening.” He said that he is not opposed to the notion of a soda tax, but he is not prepared to support it tonight.

He said that he’s “dumbfounded” over this issue because “this conversation for months and months has been all about infrastructure and needs of the city, for revenue for infrastructure. Roads, parks, you name it. There’s a variety of needs. We had a process that was set up for possible revenue measures… Not once did this come up in that entire months long process.”

He noted that it was first brought up two months ago on December 1. He continued, “We have the city’s goals. The city council set goals.” He acknowledged that one of them was to ensure a healthy community, “but it’s one thing to have that larger banner goal there, but if you actually go look at the 50-page document, that is the city council’s set goals, not one place is it mentioned.”

“The process is a real issue for me,” he said. He said there is a need to keep the eye on the prize, and he supports a true community engagement process. “At this time I’m not ready to support the underlying motion this evening.”

Mayor Dan Wolk said, “The soda tax has never been part of my, our, highly successful healthy families initiative. Though certainly becoming the first city in the nation to eliminate soda from kids meals or at least making milk and water the default beverage was one thing, and we accomplished that and I’m really proud.”

He said, “I’m not a big fan of big soda, it’s a real issue in our society.” He added, “What has been part of my vision is to pass a revenue measure in June 2016, that would fund at least parks and recs facilities, that would fund infrastructure.”

He said revitalizing the community pool “has been something that’s near and dear to my heart.”

“I’m intrigued by a soda tax. I want to definitely learn more about it. But as an infrastructure revenue measure, that’s to me what we should be focused on in June 2016,” the mayor continued. “I think we need a different tool.” He added, “The soda tax is very controversial. It hasn’t been… studied or really vetted by the community. It would engender well-funded opposition – that’s clear certainly from Berkeley. And it would have difficulty at the ballot box.”

The council voted 3-2 to pass the substitute motion, with Robb Davis and Brett Lee remaining in opposition.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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54 thoughts on “Council Caves on Soda Tax on 3-2 Vote”

  1. Barack Palin

    Council Caves on Soda Tax on 3-2 Vote

    I see this differently.   I see it as the council stood up to a small group of activists who on Dec 1 tried a soda tax blitzkrieg and turned them back.
    So I think a more appropriate title would be:

    Council stands strong against soda tax

      1. Alan Miller

        Oh, heaven forbid!  Small business owners were trying to protect their livelihood!  The EVIL of it all!  Such capitalist small business owners actually coming to a city council meeting as a group!  It’s an evil conspiracy I tell you!

        1. Tia Will

          Alan

          Please show me in the current article or posts on this thread where anyone said anything at all about anyone being “evil”. This is something that you have made up entirely as a means of discounting without any consideration of the actual beliefs of those who see the issue differently from the small business owners who expressed their views last night.

          To me, this is not conducive to a constructive conversation going forward. I freely admit that you may see the value of your comments differently and would sincerely like to hear your opinion on what constructive effect this is likely to have.

      1. Davis Progressive

        exactly.  they didn’t stand strong.  they didn’t kill it.  they weaseled their way to a task force.  that’s the very definition of not standing strong.

      2. Tia Will

        darelidd

        I believe that three members of our council “stood strong” last night in the sense of standing by their own strongly held beliefs and priorities. I believe that the three who stood by their own principles were Davis, Lee, and Swanson.

        I do not share the world view expressed by Rochelle Swanson, but I cannot deny that she stood by the value set that she has expressed ever since starting her for CC. She has made it clear repeatedly that she sees economic and financial concerns as more important than all other considerations and she has acted consistent to those principles placing all else, including the health and wellness of our community secondary to economic issues.

        Brett Lee has also been a very thoughtful advocate on both economic and health and wellness issues within our community and I truly appreciated both his voted and his expressed reasoning last night.

        Robb Davis, as should be no surprise to anyone who followed his campaign and his positions while on the CC is a very strong and consistent proponent of public health as the area of his career expertise, but also for the well being.

        I do not believe that either Frerichs nor Wolk showed any clarity of vision, belief , or intent last night. But I do concede that this may be due to my interpretation of their words which I believe may be significantly different from their actual intent.

    1. Tia Will

      BP

      I see this differently. “

      First kudos of my day go to you, BP , for your choice of a much less combative tone expressing how you “see things” with out the implication that this is how things are simply because you see it that way. I believe that this approach will be much more likely to result in a productive conversation and sharing of ideas than will a declaration that the ideas of others are “stupid”just because you say so. So I thank you for this.

        1. Tia Will

          BP

           I can’t remember calling anyone stupid, but I have stated that the soda tax is stupid.”

          I believe that your recollection may be accurate. However, I would put forward for your consideration the idea that calling someone else’s firmly held beliefs, based on their professional and life experiences, a very thin and potential indistinguishable line. I think that this is true especially when implied repeatedly when the views and plans being expressed are those of individuals that you consider liberal as opposed to your apparently far more philosophical more conservative view point.

          And for heaven’s sake. I was attempting to pay you a compliment. It appears that I have made yet another failure of communication in my many attempts to engage you in a reasoned conversation. That, I regret since it is my honest hope that those of us who post here can overcome partisan sniping and engage in a true exchange of ideas.

        2. Barack Palin

          Yes there’s much partisan sniping on here and I have been part of that just like many others.  Can you honestly say you’ve never participated?  If you’re referring to your firmly held beliefs about diabetes and obesity based on your profession I’ve never doubted that you were trying to tackle the problem in a way that you believed to be the best but in turn I don’t believe that taxing people as a deterrent is the way to go about it.  I’ve stated that I felt a better avenue would be education and labelling.  I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  2. Matt Williams

    “I often was a teaching assistant for a professor in American Government who would argue that when the going got tough, and a President wanted to kill an idea, they would assign it to a task force.”

    Was your professor Larry Berman?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      He was a professor of mine, but not in that class. It was Stuart Hill. I didn’t finish my thought in the piece, one of the big examples was Kennedy’s tobacco task force (http://jaha.ahajournals.org/content/3/1/e000740.full). Part of the problem that Kennedy has was that the tobacco states were all Democratic states at that time, so he sent it to a task force which ended up as the surgeon general’s report.

  3. Matt Williams

    For me the discussion of the soda tax was simply a tasty side dish.  The portion of the tax discussion that answered the “Where’s the beef?” question was Robb Davis’ presentation of his eight point plan for Achieving Fiscal Resilience through Cost Containment.  Robb argued clearly and strongly that (A) the infrastructure taxes being proposed should be postponed until they contained the FBC recommended accountability recommendations, and (B) that containing costs will have just as much impact in improving the City’s bottom-line as increased tax revenues would.  For those who want to see Robb’s comments at the 4:21 mark of the Council meeting video at this Video LINK

    His eight point plan, developed with the help of FBC Chair Jeff Miller, is as follows:

    Cost Containment as an Element of Fiscal Resilience

    1. Undertake a full staffing analysis to determine match between service delivery needs and staffing.

    2. Based on 1, consider best ways to provide services going forward with focus on
    Training workers to take on multiple tasks (as is happening already)
    Consideration of targeted and appropriate outsourcing of services
    3. Examine all means to further reduce growth in compensation costs including analysis of OPEB options (as other CA cities are doing).

    4. Create more transparent and accessible accounting systems that enable a more precise estimation of costs of specific services—building on work done by the Fee Study consultants.

    5. Promote a more aggressive analysis with the County and other cities, via LAFCo, of shared bidding, service, and consulting options to reduce duplication and obtain scale efficiencies.

    6. Determine what current city programs might be candidates for reduction or elimination and which we want/must keep.

    7. Determine what current city infrastructure we could/should shed (buildings, properties) to reduce expenditures related to them.

    Though not a cost containment item, we should also receive an analysis of all non-enterprise fund balances to determine if/how we can use these funds to meet current needs.

    1. Frankly

      Where can I help?  This is awesome… perfect… about time… demonstrates the type of fiscal sanity leadership we should be seeing and have not seen in this city… Kudos to Robb.  I wish I could have attended last night, I would have stood and applauded.

      Once thing I suggest… let’s make a version of this list that is simplified in language… think eight-grade reading level… so it connects with more voters.

      My business has a mission to help improve the economies of communities throughout the state.  One of my board members that does the same in Southern CA working for another company told me that they never use the term “economic development” in the communities with an activist no-growth population… instead the term is “economic vitality”.   She said that more and more often they were getting involved in deeper feasibility analysis on the spending side for these communities.   That no longer was it good enough to just tout the economic benefits of a new stand-alone development project… but to do so in a comprehensive view of community revenue and spending.

      But she said that the communities that do this well have to break through a period of denial for the connection between economic development (that tends to increase the scale, scope and population of a community) and the spending side… BOTH contributing to economic vitality.

      It seems to me that Davis is still largely stuck in denial.  Time to break through!

      1. Matt Williams

        Frankly said . . . “It seems to me that Davis is still largely stuck in denial.”

        Recently I heard a similar expression to Frankly’s . . .  “Davis is tied up in Nots”

      2. Tia Will

        Frankly

        This is awesome… perfect… about time… demonstrates the type of fiscal sanity leadership we should be seeing and have not seen in this city… Kudos to Robb.  I wish I could have attended last night, I would have stood and applauded.”

        Had I been able to stand last night, we would have both been standing and applauding this from Robb. The only difference that I can see is that you would have been applauding once while I would have been applauding twice….once for this…… and once for his position on the vote on the sugary beverage measure by the community.

        I know that you see these as very differently. Because I see these illnesses as a major cost to all of us both now and in the future, I see any measure that may help, even in a small way as being part and parcel of economic well being and sustainability.

  4. Don Shor

    As Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said, “I was very inspired by the Raise the Wage conversations earlier.”

    What was the disposition of that issue? Will this be a separate article?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      There’s not really an article, They have a task force that they set up. A few people commented on the process during the general public comment. Maybe we can get Sean Raycraft to write something on that process.

      1. Barack Palin

        Hopefully the task force is balanced with not only pro minimum wage hike proponents but also some members of our business community who are probably against Davis instituting any local measure.

        1. Tia Will

          BP and Alan Miller

          “not only pro minimum wage hike proponents but also some members of our business community”

          “That should go swimmingly.”

          And that is exactly how it should go if people are willing to listen to each others points of view, even if they are not in agreement, and seek points of agreement which would surely exist if both sides were fully engaged in constructive listening and creative problem solving rather than simply entrenching in their own positions.

          This should be true whether the groups are community health advocates and concerned small business owners or whether the groups are proponents of an increased minimum wage and concerned small business owners.

           

           

        1. Matt Williams

          Sometimes yes, sometimes no, BP.  There are typically three methods for comprising commissions, committees and/or task forces.

          The most frequently used method follows three steps.  First, citizens volunteer to be considered. Second the Council Subcommittee of Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs together with Assistant City Manager Kelly Stachhowicz interview the candidates.  Third, armed with recommendations from the interview process, the Council votes on the candidates, with the highest vote getter(s) receiving the appointment.  Very little “hand picking bias” in that process.

          The second most frequently used method is how the Housing Element Steering Committee and the WAC and the URAC are selected, with each Council member putting forward their nominations (3 each for the HESC) (2 each for the WAC and Downtown Parking task Force) (1 each for the URAC).  That clearly is a “hand picked process”

          The third most frequently used method uses the help of community groups.  For example the Broadband Advisory Task Force will be composed of:

          1 member – DavisGig
          1 member – Davis Community Network
          1 member – Davis Media Access
          1 member – Utility Rate Advisory Commission
          1 member – Davis Joint Unified School District
          1 member – Davis Chamber of Commerce
          1 member – Yolo County Broadband Working Group
          1 member – UC Davis
          2 members – Broadband users (community member volunteers)

           

  5. Alan Miller

    Frerichs nailed it:

    He said that he’s “dumbfounded” over this issue because “this conversation for months and months has been all about infrastructure and needs of the city, for revenue for infrastructure. Roads, parks, you name it.

    1. Frankly

      Points go to Lucas.

      She said, “I worry that this is political and philosophical. I don’t want to exempt our way out of it if it’s really about raising money and it’s really about children’s programs. I think there’s a way to have a win-win here and educate the community while we decide what’s right for our community.”

      Bingo.  Points go to Rochelle

      Consider that this grumpy-old-conservative fully and ambitiously supports improving nutrition and eating habits of children.  There is a lot I would be willing to support and contribute to.  I know I am not alone.  It should be a bipartisan issues because there are plenty of shared goals.

      But the soda tax approach is politically divisive.  And frankly, it is stupid.

      Stop taxing and start educating.  And related to that, I am fine increasing the labeling and truth in advertising rules for soda manufacturers.

      1. Davis Progressive

        there’s no points here.  the soda tax exemption would have allowed the impact to be reduced on smaller businesses while still hitting the majority of the sales.  although i think the small business exemption is bs.

    2. Tia Will

      his conversation for months and months has been all about infrastructure and needs of the city, for revenue for infrastructure. Roads, parks, you name it.”

      I agree that Frerichs nailed it as do I believe Swanson did when she said that we needed a more holistic approach. My take on this is that Frerichs if he is accurate, it is because the “conversation” to date has been far too limited being only about infrastructure and not about a more “holistic” approach which surely would have included as major priority for our community its health and wellness as well as its infrastructure.

  6. Topcat

    …the council majority last night to kill the soda tax, it effectively took the issue off the plate for now, by pushing it to a task force that will study the issue of sugar sweetened beverages and the council might act down the line.

    Who is going to be on this “Task Force”?  I presume it will be activists who want the tax and will slant their findings in favor of the tax.

      1. Tia Will

        Frankly

        I would say it needs to be well represented by non-activists and business owners.”

        And I would say that to achieve a balanced presentation there should be activists, health professionals, non activists and small local business owners. I honesty do not believe that representatives of large business interests such as grocery chains and soda industry proponents have any place in our local discussion.

    1. Tia Will

      TopCat

      I presume it will be activists who want the tax and will slant their findings in favor of the tax.”

      Based on the processes as delineated by Matt Williams and in my experience as a presenter before a number of commissions and task forces, which I have generally found to be balanced between philosophic proponents and opponents, I disagree with your presumption that only pro proposal activists will be there.

        1. Tia Will

          BP

          I loved the guy from the Olive St. convenience store.  He got in the council’s face.”

          I do not appreciate getting in the council’s face. All his attack on Robb Davis’ understanding of small business concerns is likely to achieve is first, animosity and then with more internal deliberation, sadness that he seems to believe that no one who is not in his position currently has the ability to understand his position.

          The reason I know was that while watching the CC meeting from home due to my inability to be there, my reaction to his statement prior to hearing Robb’s response was so powerful and so negative that I actually commented immediately to my partner “I don’t wanting him telling me what I do and don’t know”. My partner, who knows my full history was immediately empathetic. I will share that story in the hopes that you may gain some insight of how and why this approach of getting in one’s face can be very negative.

          I grew up in rural Washington. Due to my father’s death and his status as our family’s sole breadwinner, my mother and I, through her entrepreneurial spirit and my will to help her,  begin to run a very much smaller small business than these speakers. My mother earned money by making wedding and birthday cakes in her own kitchen. I helped her in the kitchen starting at age 11. This was also my age when I learned how to plant and care for raspberry bushes which could be grown in our yard. I was able to sell these berries as well as wild grown blackberries and huckleberries to the small local grocery which at that time was the only grocery in our part of town. When I was 12, I was able to supplement this income by babysitting. So perhaps you will understand why I might be offended by this assertion of what I do and do not know, and why I might not find it conducive to a collaborative process.

           

          1. Don Shor

            If the tax wouldn’t affect the buying practices of the public, as asserted by some here, then it would not affect that retailer adversely. Since the tax would be levied on the distributor, it wouldn’t affect that retailer’s tax filings. Since the tax would be part of the landed cost of the goods, and would be subject to his usual markup, it would actually probably increase his revenues. And if that isn’t the case, then he is contradicting the opponents of the tax who assert that it would have no impact.

  7. hpierce

    Interesting how the “reporter” used the word “Caves” in the ‘headline’… no ‘bias’ there…

    Perhaps ‘personal’?  Found it interesting to see a number of folk speaking for the measure who appeared to have had too many “sugary drinks” in their lifetime… I suppose, except for the disgrace of soda, go I…

  8. Tia Will

    BP

    Once again, I appreciate the reasoned tone of your response.

     Can you honestly say you’ve never participated?

    No, I cannot honestly say that I have never participated. What I can honestly say is that I try to keep my snipes and snide comments to a minimum. I also will honestly state that when I have been called out on this, frequently by hpierce, I believe that when I have agreed I have stated so and apologized. When I have not agreed, I have not ignored the statement, but have attempted to explain my difference of opinion.

    “If you’re referring to your firmly held beliefs about diabetes and obesity based on your profession I’ve never doubted that you were trying to tackle the problem in a way that you believed to be the best but in turn I don’t believe that taxing people as a deterrent is the way to go about it.  I’ve stated that I felt a better avenue would be education and labelling.  I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

    If you had stated this in this manner previously, I would not have called you out you out on your use of the word “stupid”. This is not a matter of being “politically correct”. This is a matter of presenting your ideas in a fashion more likely to be heard and appreciated than is calling someone else’s ideas “stupid”.This expression of your ideas gives me a better understanding of your position and clarifies for me one instance in which I, judging by your statement have not made my position clear. The goal is not for us to agree, but rather for us to identify points in which we may be in agreement, which is very unlikely to occur if we start out with the premise that each other’s ideas are stupid.

    As a case in point, I am fully in agreement with your suggestion for more education ( although the public health sector and I along with many other docs have been doing this for the past 30 years with very modest results in the right direction as pointed out by Frankly) and labelling. I favor both of these proposals and have acted upon this belief for years. Where we disagree is that I do not see these as exclusive of other potentially useful approaches. I know that you oppose the vast majority of proposed taxes and respect that viewpoint although I strongly disagree with it.  I do not believe that it is necessary to agree on every point in order to be respectful of the others point of view. I do not find the use of the word “stupid”, whether used in description of a person, or of an idea, to be respectful or likely to result in an ongoing collaboration, which for me is what we should be seeking.

     

  9. Misanthrop

    I hope that Don Saylor now takes this issue up at the Board of Supervisors showing that his commitment to the health of our community is stronger than that of the Davis City Council.

  10. Tia Will

    I hope that Don Saylor now takes this issue up at the Board of Supervisors showing that his commitment to the health of our community is stronger than that of the Davis City Council.”

    One issue as I see is that this is, as Rochelle rightly pointed out is a highly politicized issue. The difference in her viewpoint and mine is that I feel that this is politicized by those who want to make a living, or a profit depending on who is doing the advocacy and not by the health advocates.

    My evidence of this is that I have sat on the Health Council and multiple Yolo County health related groups for years. I have brought various suggestions for soda reduction including education ( which is already being pursued by the school districts and First 5), healthier food choices ( already being implemented with varying degrees of success), the promotion of local gardens ( already being pursued and implemented at some schools and the county) and the soda tax. The soda tax has not been previously pursued specifically because it has been considered a “political issue” and the main reason which I now cannot deny, is the push back from the business community, both large and small and those ideologically opposed to taxes.  I was skeptical of this right up until I saw the banner ad on the Vanguard and the Enterprise ad,  the focus of the comments on the Vanguard and the large and small business presentations at the City Council and witnessed Dan Wolk’s backing away from his previously expressed interest . It was only then that I became convinced that that they were right. Saddened, but convinced.

  11. Miwok

    Until you propose passing ordinances and law and taxes for ALL the People, and quit exempting anyone, you discriminate. gun Laws, Sugar Ordinances, etc. Gonna do that for Potholes and streets too?

  12. Tia Will

    Miwok

    I see your point. And I can also see your comment from another perspective . We have a time honored tradition of allowing those who who earn below a living standard to be exempt from paying income taxes. We make other kinds of allowances for those who are on fixed incomes or very low incomes in terms of paying for utilities and some other kinds of expenditures. While there is certainly reasonable concern about making too many tax exemptions there are also well founded arguments and precedent for making some allowances.

  13. AmeriBev

    The council made a sound decision on this issue. Soda taxes carry unintended consequences, for small businesses and consumers. Not to mention, arbitrary taxes don’t address public health challenges in a substantive way. Rather, education and collaboration can make a positive difference in encouraging healthier lifestyles. Our industry is doing its part through the Balance Calories Initiative, among other efforts. We’re committed to meaningful solutions, and soda taxes are anything but that.

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