Soda Taxes Win in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany

Various bottles of soda are displayed in a cooler at Marina Supermarket in San Francisco.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This post has been updated to show unofficial results from 100 percent of precincts.

San Francisco, Oakland and Albany voters have passed soda taxes in each city by a wide margin. San Francisco now becomes the largest city on the West Coast to approve a levy on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages. Measure V passed 62-38 percent in unofficial results, with all precincts counted.

The Bay Area is now positioned as a nationwide leader of policy efforts aimed at curbing the consumption of sugary drinks. Proponents say the tax will help reduce obesity and related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes.

“This night goes to every single person I spoke to who told me their story about diabetes,” said Joyce Ganthavorn, 25, who spent a year campaigning for the tax in San Francisco and Oakland and was already celebrating. “This victory goes out to them.”

The battle over soda taxes in the three Bay Area cities became one of the most expensive in the state this election season — with total contributions reaching more than $54 million.

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In unofficial returns, 61 percent of voters in San Francisco and Oakland and 71 percent in Albany have approved the tax in their cities, despite $30 million spent by the American Beverage Association in the anti-tax campaign.

“This is hope for other cities who are thinking of putting a tax on the ballot,” said Monica Chinchilla, campaign manager for San Francisco’s Measure V. “You can beat Big Soda.”

Monica Chinchilla, 21, the campaign manager for the support of Proposition V embraces a fellow supporter reacting to the passing of the soda tax at The Grand Theater in n the Mission District in San Francisco on Tuesday, Nov 8, 2016.
Monica Chinchilla (left) embraces Joyce Ganthavorn at the Grand Theater in San Francisco on Tuesday, Nov 8, 2016. Early election results showed San Francisco, Oakland and Albany were poised to approve soda taxes by a wide margin. (Aaron Levy-Wolins/Bay News Now)

Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, said the flood of cash from the soda industry pointed to the races’ high stakes nationwide.

“I think they see this as very important for their future, and they are trying to make it clear to other cities and other states that might consider similar types of taxes that they are going to fight hard,” McDaniel said.

While tax proponents relied heavily on volunteers going door to door to garner support, out-of-state billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Laura and John Arnold infused about $24 million into the campaign, mostly during the final weeks before Election Day.

Berkeley voters approved the nation’s first soda tax in 2014, while a similar tax in San Francisco failed the same year. Before Berkeley passed its tax, dozens of other cities across the country had tried and failed to implement taxes on sugary drinks.

This year’s measures would tax distributors of sugary drinks 1 cent per ounce, like in Berkeley. While supporters say funds from the taxes will support education and health programs, opponents argue it is actually a “grocery tax” that could hurt low-income residents and small businesses, because small businesses would pass the cost on to other groceries to stay competitive.

So far, Berkeley's soda tax does not appear to affect the price of other groceries, according to researchers at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health.

The new taxes are expected to raise millions of dollars annually in San Francisco and Oakland, and apply to regular sodas, sports drinks, sweetened iced teas and juices with added sugar. Diet sodas, milk, 100% juice drinks, and baby formula are exempt from the tax.