When a divided Richmond City Council voted to place a sugar-sweetened beverage tax on the November ballot, proponents predicted that other cities would follow suit.

But no one predicted it would be El Monte.

City Council members representing the Los Angeles County suburb voted unanimously on July 24 to place on their local ballot a 1-cent-per-ounce tax nearly identical to Richmond's.

It wasn't a coincidence.

"They used our template," said Councilman Jeff Ritterman, perhaps Richmond's most vocal advocate for the tax. "They worked with the same consultants; they are with us at the leading edge of a growing movement."

Whether improving public health through increased taxes and regulations on sugar-sweetened beverages will be successful remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that a movement is afoot.

Richmond's proposed 1-cent-per-ounce tax has drawn national media attention and the interest of academics and policy experts. With support from science and policy advocates such as the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy -- which helped craft the El Monte ballot measure -- tax proponents hope to equate sodas and soft drinks with cigarettes in terms of public health dangers.


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"The new science is percolating into the popular consciousness," Ritterman said. "People are taking notice of the adverse impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages on our obesity and diabetes epidemics."

But opponents question both the consequences sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages have on public health and the effectiveness of using local taxes to reduce consumption.

In Richmond, it has cleaved the city along racial and class lines.

"A tax on these drinks is not the answer," said Joe Fisher, treasurer of the Black American Political Action Committee, an influential voice in Richmond politics. "It won't stop people from buying soda, and it will take money out of our businesses and our community members' pockets. It's a tax on the poor."

While proponents hail the council action in El Monte, few of them want to discuss the undercard battle that occurred at the same time in Redlands. The San Bernardino County suburb also had a council debate on taxing beverages -- but with a different result.

Redlands Councilman Bob Gardner argued for the 1-cent-per-ounce tax, but his motion died without a second after a procession of merchants attacked the measure as anti-business.

Richmond Councilman Ritterman noted that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems likely to achieve a ban on sales of sodas larger than 16 ounces. Ritterman said he hopes to get public statements of support for Richmond's approach from both Bloomberg and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

Activists on both sides of the Richmond issue have a summer schedule packed with plans for flier distribution, town hall meetings, door-to-door campaigns and other political activities ahead of the November vote.

Maritza Velazquez of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune contributed to this report. Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.