Proposed Oakland tax on sugar beverages stirs controversy

OAKLAND (BCN) --  The owner of a small grocery store in Oakland's Fruitvale district alleged today that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages that's on the November ballot would hurt small businesses such as his and result in higher prices for his customers.

Speaking at a news conference in front of his store, Mi Carnal Market at 2755 Foothill Blvd., Abdul Taleb said the cost of the proposed tax of one cent per ounce for each sugar-sweetened beverage would force him to raise the prices of all of his items, not just beverages, and would hurt his customers.

Taleb said, "The smartest business decision would be to spread the cost to all of out items, not just beverages."

He said small business owners such as himself wouldn't be able to absorb the added cost but large grocery store chains might be able to do so and might take some of his customers.

Taleb said he also fears that he might lose customers to stores in nearby cities such as San Leandro that don't have a soda tax.

The proposed tax is opposed by more than 280 storeowners, who call themselves the No Oakland Grocery Tax Campaign and are funded in part by the American Beverage Association, based in Washington, D.C.

But Taleb said, "I don't represent the American Beverage Association, I represent my business and my customers and I'm not being paid by the association."

Taleb said, "I want my customers to make healthy choices but I don't want the city to raise taxes that will hurt small businesses."

He said, "I don't think a soda tax will solve the diabetes and obesity problems."

Taleb was the only Oakland grocer to participate in the news conference, although he was joined by Alejandro Del Rio, the owner of a small grocery store on Mission Street in San Francisco, who spoke against the 

Oakland tax as well as a similar soda tax that's on the ballot in San Francisco in November.

Owners of four other small grocery stores in Oakland joined Taleb in sending a letter to the three Oakland City Councilwomen who authored the ballot measure accusing them of employing "misinformation" and "outright  falsehoods" in claiming that the tax will be levied specifically on soda and won't be passed on to customers.

The three councilwomen -- Annie Campbell Washington, Rebecca Kaplan and Desley Brooks -- said last month that they planned to file a complaint with the city's ethics commission and a false advertising complaint with the Federal Communication Commission over what they alleged was false advertising by soda tax opponents who say the tax is a tax on groceries. 

At a news conference on July 14, Campbell Washington said, "This is not a tax on groceries."

The advertisements have been sent by mail to Oakland voters and broadcast on TV. 

The councilwomen couldn't be reached today to confirm that they followed through by actually filing ethics and false advertising complaints.

The councilwomen say over-consumption of sugar is one of the main contributors to the rise in Type 2 diabetes.

They also say that sugary beverages make up more than 50 percent of the added sugar in people's diets.

According to American Heart Association government relations director Brittni Chicuata, science shows that sugary beverages are linked to diabetes and diabetes can lead to heart disease.