Kick the can

Fact-checking the opposition to the Sugary Beverage Tax reveals misleading claims

Nick Panagopoulos from BMWL holds an award the firm won for defeating Richmond's proposed sugary beverage tax.

At least 720 San Francisco businesses oppose the controversial Sugary Beverage Tax proposed for the November ballot, according to the proposed ballot measure's opponents. But a Guardian investigation shows that claim is overstated.

Some businesses were listed with the consent of employees who couldn't speak for the business, not their owners, and some businesses listed aren't even open anymore.

The measure is opposed by Unfair Beverage Taxes: Coalition for an Affordable City, which is funded by the American Beverage Association and fronted by public relations firm BMWL and Partners. They have been trying to enlist allies from local restaurants and liquor stores, trying to show the community is against the Sugary Beverage Tax.

The ABA is funded primarily by Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, and they certainly have cause to worry about a measure that aims to reduce consumption of sodas and other sugary drinks to help curb obesity, using a 2 cent per ounce tax on sugary beverages sold in San Francisco.

The resolution to place the measure on the fall ballot is sponsored by Sups. Scott Wiener, Eric Mar, Malia Cohen, John Avalos, and David Chiu.

The estimated $31 million in taxes collected would go to the SFUSD to fund physical education for kids and active and healthy living programs in the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the Department of Public Health.

We called over 70 of the businesses on the list of opposition to the tax in San Francisco. Not all of the businesses responded to our calls, nor were owners easily available, and some of the businesses listed did not have English-speaking staff available to talk.

Update 2/26: Want to see the list for yourself? Click here for the PDF of the opposition list to the Sugary Beverage Tax sent to us by Affordable City. 

But about 20 of the businesses did respond, and what they told us calls into question the veracity of the opposition list.

Mohammed Iqbal, owner of All Nite Pizza on Third Street, said he only learned about the Sugary Beverage Tax only after we called. Following up later, he said he found that one of his employees signed onto the list.

records"We're not really sure about the tax, we'd rather stay out of it," Iqbal told us.

Swanky coffee and wine bar Ma'Velous, a spot popular with City Hall politicos, was also on the list. The owner's wife, Lean Chow, told us opposition canvassers presented the tax in a one-sided way, and she wasn't told her signature would place the business onto an opposition list.

"We didn't get the full details," she told us in a phone interview. "We also didn't know the taxes would go towards education." Her husband owns the coffee bar, and she said they are both fully in support of the beverage tax.

Noe's Bar and the formerly co-owned Basso's restaurant are also on the opposition list, but both businesses are permanently closed, according to their Yelp listings and county business data, which we confirmed with phone calls.

Most of the store owners we talked to who did confirm they were on the opposition list said they were not told the funding would go to schools, activities in parks, or public health. Some said they were actively misinformed.

Aijez Ghani, the owner of the restaurant Alhamra, told us, "The one gentleman come, and he say in favor or against? I said in favor."

When we asked him if he knew he was on the opposition list, Ghani said, "I think it was a mistake. But I am totally in favor of the tax, 100 percent. They're going to spend money on the schools, the health of kids, and health is more important than business."