A crusade by a Palo Alto dentist to get the city of Palo Alto to adopt a soda tax is quickly picking up momentum, with four members of the City Council now preparing a memo in support of including such a measure on the November ballot.
If adopted by voters, Palo Alto would join the likes of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Albany and Seattle in taxing distributors of sugar-based beverages, including sodas, smoothies and energy drinks. In most cases, the rates range between 1 cent per fluid ounce (as in Berkeley and Albany) to 1.75 cents per fluid ounce (as in Seattle).
In Palo Alto, officials have yet to determine the details, including the rate. But according to Councilman Cory Wolbach, who is now drafting the colleagues memo, the local proposal will borrow heavily from other jurisdictions that have recently passed such a tax.
Wolbach told the Weekly that the memo will propose using the other cities' laws as templates, while putting a "Palo Alto spin on it."
Wolbach isn't the only council member who thinks a soda tax is a good idea. Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilwoman Karen Holman, both longtime champions of the city's "healthy city/healthy community" priority, are on board in supporting the memo. So is Councilman Greg Tanaka, the council's leading fiscal hawk.
The move to institute a soda tax is being spearheaded by Ken Horowitz, a retired dentist who in recent months has been passionately advocating for the ballot measure, talking to local policymakers and gathering information from other communities that have recently adopted such a tax.
Last month, Horowitz made his case during the oral-communications portion of the meeting, when he argued that a sugar tax would both reduce consumption (and hence, combat obesity) and raise revenues for important health programs. In Berkeley, the new tax has generated about $1.4 million since its passage in 2014, money that is used to support the local school district and various health and nutrition programs.
On Monday, Horowitz said he has attended numerous meetings in recent weeks, including a gathering of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and a symposium on children's health, and has heard from various organizations that he believes would likely support a new soda tax, including the American Heart Association and the Santa Clara Dental Society.
Horowitz said that close to 40 percent of local fifth-graders are either overweight or obese, while nearly 40 percent of middle- and high-school students have reported drinking soda one or more times in the prior 24 hours.
"If this does go to the council, you can expect a lot of support," Horowitz said.
While the details of the new measure are yet to be hashed out, Holman said she supports the idea of moving ahead with a soda tax and called sugar consumption among children "pretty stunning."
"We have an obesity problem and I think a tax would not only raise awareness of the impacts of sugar but maybe, through education, lead to less consumption," Holman said.
While the tax could create a fresh revenue source for health programs, Holman said the main goal isn't to raise funds but to lower sugar consumption.
"First priority would be to address the health issues created and caused by sugary drinks," Holman said.