A District Divided: The Mission’s Views On Proposed “Sin” Taxes

In less than a month voters will decide whether or not excise taxes will be levied statewide on tobacco, and locally on sugary beverages.

Proposition 56 will hike the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $2 in California, and Proposition V proposes a cent-per-ounce tax increase on sugary beverages in San Francisco.

These vice-targeted tax proposals have business owners and community members in The Mission District torn and some outright confused by the barrage of propaganda and aggressive campaigning.

Campaign language surrounding San Francisco’s Prop V. in particular is a notable cause of confusion, with supporters calling it a “soda tax” and opponents labeling it a “grocery tax.”

The truth is, the tax calls for a penny-per-ounce increase on beverages with more than 25 calories per 12 ounces. This tax would not apply to drinks sweetened without added sugars, such as pressed fruit juices.

Clearly this tax would specifically put the soda industry in a disadvantage, and the American Beverage Association has spent millions in campaigns fighting the initiative.

For parents and business owners, the measure can take on different layers of implications.

“As a business owner, I’m against [Prop. V], as a parent, I’m not sure,” says Mission market owner, James Choi.

Choi, who has been living above Rhea’s on Guerrero since he took ownership in 2006 claims there isn’t a lot of kids drinking soda in the area. He argues that the tax will not have any effect on obesity because soda is not the cause of problem, but rather a lack of education and options regarding healthy eating.

Choi believes the issue stems from the household and simply encouraging less soda consumption is only a piece of a larger and more complex puzzle.

“People who drink soda frequently are still going to eat fast food and fatty food the government needs to inform, educate, and provide guidelines, because lack of education is at the root,” Choi says, “Give a guy a fish, and he has one meal, teach him how to fish and he has a lifetime of food.”

The issue of finances also comes into play as many are unsure how the penny an ounce increase will really effect the price of soda and where the tax money is going.

The tax, collected by the City from distributors of sugary beverages, is projected to amass up to $15 million in increased revenue by 2019, according to a statement released by City Controller Ben Rosenfield.

According to the measure, this extra revenue would be put into the City’s general fund with no specification on distribution of these funds.

Nawaf Shatrat, a neighborhood accountant says many of his local small business clients are upset by the prospect of higher taxes.

“This would be terrible for [business owners] and people who can barely afford to pay the rent,” Shatrat says. “It’s just another way for the government to stick their hands in people’s pockets.”

Zuhidi Khalri, manager at Pay N Save, a small family owned market that has stood on the corner of Guerrero for 16 years believes the proposed tax increases are creating a slippery slope of government meddling.

“If [the government] taxes sugar, then what’s next? They can just start taxing everything,” Khalri said. “It’s unlawful, they tried to do it in the past and people revolted, and it’s not going to change anything, people are still going to buy what they want.




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