Richmond voters will decide next fall if they want to impose a penny-per-ounce soda tax to help fight obesity.

A divided City Council agreed this week to ask voters in November to impose a sales tax on sweetened beverages, including soda and fruit drinks containing less than 10 percent juice.

The obesity rate among the city's children is frightening, said Councilman Jeff Ritterman, a former physician, during Tuesday's council meeting.

"We will be sentencing these kids to lives of early illness and early death if we don't do something," said the former chief of cardiology at the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center

Residents began debating the proposed tax online over the weekend, and many spoke on both sides of the issue Tuesday.

Critics condemned the proposal as an obesity tax and said moderate consumption of sugary drinks can be part of a healthy diet.

They chastised the council for failing to seek residents' opinions on the measure. Last summer, voters rejected a sales tax hike that cost the city $200,000 to put on the ballot.

Other residents supported the tax and said it would generate needed money for anti-obesity programs.

Contra Costa Public Health Director Wendel Brunner spoke about the health effects of sugary beverages ahead of the vote.

Before voting, Councilman Tom Butt explained that he was giving residents a chance to weigh in on the tax, not necessarily supporting it himself.

He held up the can of Pepsi he was drinking and shook it menacingly.


Advertisement

"Look at this -- 150 calories of certain death."

Councilman Corky Booze voted against the ballot measure, and Councilman Nat Bates abstained.

Contact Hannah Dreier at 510-262-2787. Follow her at Twitter.com/hannahdreier.