For the past few weeks, Oakland residents have been bombarded with virtual reminders of an issue that they will be asked to vote on this coming November – namely, a one-cent-per-ounce tax on soda. The Oakland City Council says that this tax will be used to fund local efforts to combat obesity. Ads about the proposed tax, distributed by the No Oakland Grocery Tax (NO) Campaign, employed talking points which emphasize the financial burden that the tax could impose upon small businesses and local grocers.
While this is certainly a valid issue to have with the upcoming ballot measure, it is worth noting that the No Oakland Grocery Tax initiative is funded primarily by a political action committee (PAC) of the American Beverage Association, an organization dedicated to lobbying on behalf of the soft drink industry. This, in conjunction with the ad campaign’s false portrayal of this proposed tax as one on groceries rather than on soda, calls its ethics into question.
The Campanil feels that there is simply not enough information available to the public for Oakland residents to make an informed vote. While the No on Oakland Grocery Tax campaign is undoubtedly funded by an industry with a vested interest in keeping their products free of additional taxes, we are also wary of any promises made by the City Council about tax revenue being used to combat obesity. City officials have confirmed that any revenue generated by this potential new tax would simply be funneled into the city’s general endowment, with plans to establish a committee to organize projects with revenue from the soda tax.
The Campanil staff feel that the No on Oakland Grocery Tax campaign’s efforts to sway local residents by casting people of color in its vigorous multi-platform ad campaign is exploitative. We cannot be sure that the people in these ads are not paid actors, and as such, we think it is disingenuous for these ads to represent themselves as reflecting the concerns of local business owners. The lack of transparency surrounding the campaign is troublesome, especially considering how much money is obviously being poured into convincing Oakland residents to reject the proposed soft drink tax.
Those of us who are residents of Oakland are torn between voting yes or no on a measure that has the potential to fund two different entities, which have both failed to be upfront about their respective investments in the passing of this measure.
The City Council of Oakland has also touted statistics supposedly pointing to the success of a similar 2014 ballot measure passed in Berkeley. Members of The Campanil staff have questions regarding those statistics as they have been represented by the YES side of the campaign. We are unsure about the precise factors leading to a decrease in soda consumption or how effective health education efforts funded by the soda tax have been.
Lack of transparency on both sides seems to be the primary issue for members of The Campanil staff. While we have serious reservations about the intentions of the No on Oakland Grocery Tax campaign, we feel that the City Council of Oakland needs to be much more transparent with its funding intentions if it wants the support of the Oakland community.