Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Measure H: El Monte soda tax fizzes out in face of $1.3 million opposition campaign

An El Monte City Council proposal to add a penny-per-ounce tax to sweetened beverages appeared headed to failure Tuesday night after the beverage industry spent at least $1.3 million to defeat it.

Planning Commissioner Art Barrios, a local advocate for defeating Measure H, said the City Council and Mayor Andre Quintero miscalculated the tax's appeal and mislabeled it from the start.

"I think it was an ill-conceived ballot issue," Barrios said. "They brought it out as an anti-obesity measure, but that's not what it was. It was strictly for revenue generation."

With 84 percent of the count tallied, more than 76 percent of voters turned down the tax.

Quintero cited national and local statistics on health and obesity in arguing that the tax on sweetened drinks was similar to taxes on liquor and tobacco by raising revenue to help health programs.

The tax would have added about 12 cents to a can of soda, or $1.28 to a gallon of sweetened juice drink, collected in the form of a business license fee.

The local chamber of commerce opposed the fee as too difficult and expensive for businesses to sustain. They also said their businesses would lose sales to markets in nearby cities that impose no fee.

A spokesman for the No on Measure H campaign said the beverage industry, in spending so much to defeat the tax, hoped to persuade other cities not to follow El Monte's example.