San Francisco Bay Area approves taxes on sugary drinks

SAN FRANCISCO — Voters in the San Francisco Bay Area overwhelmingly approved a trio of measures Tuesday to tax soda and other sugary drinks, giving possible momentum to a national movement to crack down on sweetened beverages.

The measures in San Francisco and Oakland had at least 60 percent of the vote, with approval in neighboring Albany even higher.

The penny-per-ounce tax will apply to energy, sweetened tea and sports drinks. It will not apply to diet sodas or naturally sweetened drinks.

“This is a very strong message to the soda industry, and this will lead to the introduction of new proposals all across the country,” said Dr. John Maa, secretary of the San Francisco Medical Society and one of the measure’s supporters. “We hope they will develop products that are healthier.”

Proponents say sugary drinks contribute to obesity, diabetes and other health problems, and that the tax is a small price to ensure the health of children targeted by the soda industry.

Opponents say grocers will be forced to raise prices on other items to cover the cost. The tax is on distributors and not paid by customers who buy the drinks.

Joe Arellano, a spokesman for the opposition, said the opponents respected the voters’ decisions, but believe the “regressive tax” will harm low-income families and small businesses.

“It’s already too expensive to live in the Bay Area and this tax will make it even harder,” he said in a statement.

Spending by tax proponents and opponents of the measures was expected to top $50 million, fueled by heavy contributions from dueling national interests. In many ways, the American Beverage Association went head-to-head over the issue with tax backer and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Opponents have reported spending at least $26 million. Proponents have reported spending more than $16 million. The reports are not final and the numbers could go up.

Proposition V is by far the costliest in San Francisco history, where tax proponents were trying for a second time to win passage of the measure.

In 2014, a similar proposal failed to get enough votes for a dedicated tax, which requires two-thirds approval. This year, backers went for a general tax, which requires a simple majority and doesn’t stipulate how the revenue is spent.

Voters in Berkeley approved a penny-per-ounce soda tax in 2014. Philadelphia approved one in June, taxing diet drinks as well.