Richmond divided over proposed soda tax


Measure N began as a proposal by a City Council member. A retired cardiologist, Dr. Jeff Ritterman said after 30 years in practice he knew the toll that obesity was taking a toll and wanted to do something stop it.

Studies have shown that drinking sugar sweetened drinks is linked to the rising prevalence of obesity in children. Ritterman convinced a majority of his fellow councilmembers in to put a measure on the November ballot that would tax on soda and other sugary drinks and use the money to make children healthier.

"For the $3 million we'll take in we can put in new soccer fields, softball fields, we can teach our kids, all the third graders, how to swim and we can put nutrition teachers in all of our elementary schools," Ritterman said.

Ritterman is convinced the tax will encourage parents to buy 100 percent juice and other non-sugar drinks in place of soda.

"It really is parallel to big tobacco and doing what we did with cigarettes," he said.

Ritterman and his Yes on Measure N supporters have run into the kind of big money opposition that characterized the tobacco fight. Soft drink companies and a national theater chain have contributed more than $2 million outspending supporters by nearly 36 to one.

The No on N campaign is being run out of a San Francisco-based political consulting firm, but the face of the No on N campaign is Richmond City Councilman Corky Booze.

"Those that can least afford to pay are going to being paying that once cents in the city of Richmond," Booze said.

Booze says the businesses that are charged the tax will have to pass it on to their customers. And opponents aren't convinced it'll actually reduce consumption.

"What are you going to do about the donuts, what are you going to do about the tortillas that the Hispanic people have, what are you going to do about the soul food that African American people eat," Booze asked.

Richmond resident Lisa Lorello supports the measure mostly because of her two young girls.

"They need to be drinking juice and water; those are the things that are good for them," she said.

But at the Century Theater, where No on N signs are everywhere, including on the employee's shirts, movie goers are being shown a No on N commercial before every feature.

Coming out of the theater, it seemed most people were against the measure.

"It's telling us what we can have and what we can't have and control starts at the home," one person said.

The Yes on N campaign says they must be doing OK because the No on N campaign keeps spending money. But the No on N campaign says their research shows nearly 70 percent of the voters are opposed.

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