Policy Profile: San Francisco, CA Sugary Drink Tax

What worked in San Francisco

While each community is unique, here are some lessons learned from San Francisco:

  • Groundwork was laid by an unsuccessful tax campaign in 2014, signature gathering for the 2016 ballot measure, and ongoing community education by the health department.
  • The 2016 coalition made a place at the table for communities of color and emphasized recruiting and training new leaders and campaign volunteers.
  • Leadership from two women of color, Supervisor Malia Cohen and Campaign Manager Monica Chinchilla were important leaders, and helped bring communities and voters on board.
  • Political expertise and organizers: The lead political consultant had experience in the 2014 Berkeley tax victory. The voter outreach plan included paid, trained organizers taking the lead in high-priority districts.
  • The experience and research from Mexico and Berkeley helped to counter Big Soda’s arguments.
  • Message: Tell the truth—Benefits from the tax revenue, positive experience of Berkeley and Mexico, Big Soda targets communities of color and hurts health.
  • Personal stories of diabetes in families within the community. This is a matter of life and death. People of color are disproportionately dying from diabetes and heart disease; this is preventable.
  • Establishing the Community Advisory Board was critical to guarantee a community voice in the funding allocation process to address concerns about how the money would be spent.
  • Use of earned media, social media, and media consultants helped create an ongoing buzz.
  • Community members and leaders are the best messengers, especially when the opposition is a rich corporation. Message framing was the “Health of Our Kids vs. Big Soda profits.”
  • It was important to start fundraising early.
  • Took advantage of online tools to organize volunteers early on. Activate them when enthusiastic.
  • Important to get messages out through local channels before Big Soda comes to town.
  • Business outreach was critical, early on.


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