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Local Soda Tax Interests Santa Monica Commission, Council Seems Unreceptive  
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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

April 28, 2017 -- Santa Monica officials say the city is in desperate need of more money to fund parks creation and maintenance, and one idea to generate that cash is a soda tax.

The Recreation and Parks Commission recommended that this possibly be included in a scientific poll measuring the public’s willingness to support various tax funding measures to support parks.

“They’ve been interested in the idea,” Karen Ginsberg, Santa Monica’s director of community and cultural services, told the City Council on Tuesday. “They just wanted to explore it.”

No council member jumped on the soda tax proposal, which has been a hot topic in various cities and was unsuccessfully proposed statewide for the first time by Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom in 2015 ("Santa Monica Representative’s Sugary Drink Tax Dies In Assembly," May 14, 2015).

Soda taxes have been approved in various cities nationwide, including Berkeley and Oakland. They have been controversial and received intense opposition from soda makers.

Bloom’s second proposal for a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sugary beverages to fund diabetes and heart disease treatment and prevention was withdrawn last year when it became clear it did not have enough support to get through an Assembly committee.

Although not focusing their attention on the soda tax issue, council members did approve funding at the Tuesday meeting for a poll and additional consultant work to determine the public’s interest in a parks measure.

Ginsberg said the most money could be generated through a bond that would be paid off via a parcel tax.

A soda tax concept could be included in the polling. Ginsberg said the City would have to talk to the consultant about how best to do the poll.

Passage of the bond measure would require support from two-thirds of the voters. The election would likely be in November 2018.

“This is something this community has told us they’re interested in,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said. “So the first step is to assess just how deep is that interest and whether it’s enough to get over that 67 percent threshold that is so difficult.”

Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy, suggested that a poll question be included asking people if they would favor a bond that supports parks and the rehabilitation of the Civic Auditorium.

“Providing for some funding in the course of this bond measure for Civic Auditorium rehabilitation might increase the attractiveness of the bond measure to the general public,” she told the council.

Several council members agreed this would be good to include in the poll.

The City is expected to issue a request for proposals this fall seeking a team to renovate and later operate the aging facility that was long ago an entertainment hot spot but has fallen on hard times.

Finding funding for that has been a challenge and even in some people’s eyes conflicted with the quest for parks money (“Council Adopts Plan Prioritizing Fixing Civic Auditorium, Calls for Parks Study,” February 12, 2016).

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