Dueling sides in the soda-tax debate staked their ground Wednesday during City Hall’s first public hearing on the proposed November ballot measure.
As health professionals, public-school officials and parents turned out to back the tax, many wearing white T-shirts that read “Our Community Health Matters, Let’s Fight For It,” small-business owners and their supporters turned out to denounce the tax wearing red T-shirts that said, “Stop Unfair Beverage Taxes, Coalition for An Affordable City.”
If passed by voters, San Francisco would become the first city to impose such a tax — 2 cents for every sugary beverage ounce — but it’s facing strong opposition from the soda industry.
“These drinks are not healthy,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the leaders of the effort. “They are a significant contributing factor to Type 2 diabetes.”
Some opponents during the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing Wednesday said the tax was only about the money and wouldn’t reduce consumption, only increase costs for consumers at a time when many residents “confront a growing affordability gap.”
Paula Tejeda, owner of Chile Lindo in the Mission, said, “This tax will not solve the dietary problems in our city.”
She said small businesses shouldn’t have to face the impacts just to “finance another incompetent nonprofit or city department.”
Some suggested The City should simply increase public awareness and not tax. Wiener compared the tax to the rising price of tobacco products, saying that, “Sometimes you have to send price signals to people.”
Supervisor London Breed questioned why The City is only targeting sugary beverages and not sugar itself.
“These sugary beverages present a very specific and serious health problem in a way that sugary food does not,” Wiener said, noting that they don’t turn off one’s appetite, contain a large amount of sugar consumed quickly and heighten the risk of diabetes.
The measure, which would require two-thirds approval, could raise about $30 million annually. Of the revenue, 40 percent would go to the San Francisco Unified School District for programs like physical education and nutritious foods.
Twenty-five percent would go to the Department of Public Health and another 25 percent to the Recreation and ParkDepartment for healthy-living and physical-activity initiatives. The remaining 10 percent would go to nonprofits.
It is the first of a string of expected meetings over the soda-tax proposal and associated impacts. Wiener has requested a public hearing in a few weeks to discuss the impacts of diabetes on residents.
The deadline to place the measure on the November ballot is Aug. 1.