This is the story of how Berkeley took on Big Soda – and won.
In 2014, Measure D passed in a landslide, making Berkeley the first city in the country to successfully levy a tax on sugary drinks. The Ecology Center was central to this grassroots campaign. Our youth interns led door-to-door outreach in Berkeley neighborhoods.
The campaign was launched in response to a public health crisis: 40% of kids will get diabetes in their lifetimes. The link between sugary drinks and diseases like diabetes is undeniable.
The American Beverage Association poured over $2.4 million dollars into our city, but was crushed by the power of community relationships: grassroots organizing, volunteers, and thousands of conversations between neighbors, parents, and friends. Berkeley is now reaping the benefits of the soda tax, which has funded school gardens, cooking classes, and many other youth-centered health programs.
Berkeley was not the first city to attempt a soda tax – and it is not the last. We’ve heard from people all over the country who are inspired to create their own campaigns to address health in their communities, and stand up to Big Soda.
Explore these pages:
- Videos that capture the story of the campaign
- Frequently Asked Questions about the soda tax and campaign
- Press Coverage of the campaign, including Op-Eds and Press Releases
- Supporters of the campaign: individuals, businesses, and organizations
- Links to sugary drink health research and related campaigns
WHAT did Measure D do?
Measure D stipulated that Berkeley would place a penny-per-ounce tax paid by distributors of sugary drinks, like soda, energy drinks, and sugary coffee syrups. Measure D also established a panel of health experts to advise Berkeley’s City Council on how to use the tax money to support programs to reduce sugary drink consumption and improve children’s health.
To date, the panel of health experts has recommended funding for Berkeley Unified School District’s Cooking and Gardening Program, disease prevention programs at the YMCA, Lifelong Medical Care, and youth or adult health outreach programs at Healthy Black Families, Multicultural Institute, and the Ecology Center.
WHO was involved?
The Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition formed in November 2013. Members include parents, teachers, public health and healthcare professionals, leaders of community organizations, and other concerned residents who had personally been committed to addressing health disparities in Berkeley for two decades. The campaign was backed by a broad base of community supporters, like the Berkeley NAACP, Latinos Unidos, and Berkeley Federation of Teachers, leading public health policy experts, and food movement champions.
HOW did the soda tax get passed?
In early 2014, members of the Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition gathered petition signatures from Berkeley residents asking City Council to include a tax measure on the November 2014 ballot. In July 2014 the city council unanimously approved Measure D for the ballot, which was designed to impose a general tax, rather than a special tax.
After it was placed on the ballot, Big Soda spent over $2.4 million trying to defeat the measure. They created fake grassroots front groups, claimed the soda tax was misleading and confusing, and said it would “hurt poor people” while simultaneously profited off marketing to those same people, buying up billboards, and sending mailers. They even filed a lawsuit against the language of the ballot measure, which was unsuccessful.
Measure D passed due to the strength of a genuine grassroots campaign, which organized hundreds of volunteers, and inspired thousands of supporters to have conversations with neighbors and friends about the soda tax. We created media committees and press events, sent op-ed letters, hosted public events on a range of topics related to sugary drinks, and shared leadership among all involved in the campaign, including young people who are most targeted by soda industry marketing. The soda industry did not have deep community ties or involvement, and were widely viewed as faceless corporate outsiders driven by profits, not the community’s best interests. On election night, Berkeley resoundingly approved Measure D with 75% of the vote.
We maintain these webpages as archives of a successful soda tax campaign. We hope these resources and roadmaps inspire other communities to launch similar public health campaigns.
Direct questions about the Measure D campaign to firstname.lastname@example.org.