The Berkeley City Council will vote tonight on whether to place a one-cent-per-ounce soda tax measure on the November ballot.
The measure would place a general tax on sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks sold in Berkeley and use the proceeds to fund programs that promote good nutrition, according to the Ecology Center, a Berkeley-based health and environmental organization that is a proponent of the measure.
"We're going to do everything we can do to try to improve the health of children in Berkeley," said Mansour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which also endorses the soda tax.
The tax has gained support from organizations that advocate for children and health, including the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.
Id-Deen said he is particularly concerned about diabetes rates for children and people of color in Berkeley. The city's 2013 Health Status Report showed that black Berkeley residents were four times as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and 14 times more likely to be hospitalized for diabetes than white residents.
"It's an alarmingly disproportionately high level for African-American children in Berkeley in particular," Id-Deen said.
Consumption of sugary beverages has been tied to diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems. Sugar consumed in liquid form is thought to be particularly harmful, as the quick sugar spikes strain the body's systems to process it.
"Now one in three kids are projected to get diabetes in their lifetimes," said Berkeley Councilmember Linda Maio, an advocate for the measure. "If you're African American or Latino, that's one in two kids."
Among ninth-graders in Berkeley, 29 percent are overweight or obese overall, according to the 2013 report. Among black and Latino ninth-graders, 40 percent are overweight or obese.
Advocates for the measure hope the tax will deter adults and children from purchasing as many sugary drinks. The tax would affect businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $100,000.
"The advertising to our kids is very strong, particularly kids of color," Maio said. "The parents don't stand a chance."
But representatives from the beverage industry say a soda tax won't be effective and that diabetes rates have increased even while consumption of sugary drinks has dropped.
"A regressive tax on common grocery items, like sugar-sweetened beverages, won't make people in Berkeley healthier," Roger Salazar, spokesman for Californians for Food & Beverage Choice, said in a statement. "But it will have an impact on consumers and businesses already struggling to make ends meet."
Polls have shown that the public supports the soda tax, Maio said.
No U.S. city currently taxes sugary drinks, but San Francisco is considering putting a similar measure on the November ballot.
Another East Bay city, Richmond, proposed a soda tax ballot measure in 2012 but it was rejected by voters.