In a campaign that has predictably drawn the attention of the beverage industry, El Monte residents will vote today on a proposed one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks sold in the city, raising the cost of beverages such as sodas, some juices and chocolate milk.
"Our residents are disproportionately feeling the impacts of drinking soda and juices that are causing them to have heart attacks, strokes and contract Type 2 diabetes,'' El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero said. "This is a significant issue for our community and we need to start driving that discussion.
"At the same time, the lagging economy is creating a budget deficit that could negatively impact, among other things, our recreation programs, which contribute to a healthy community,'' he said. "By asking residents to approve this measure, our community will be moving in a positive direction toward reducing obesity and improving our health.''
City officials estimated that the tax could generate between $3.5 million and $7 million a year. But the idea is not going over well with some business owners, who claim the tax would hurt local merchants who would have to charge higher prices for drinks. And the beverage industry has bankrolled a highly visible opposition campaign, featuring billboards, mailers and signs that appear throughout the city.
"Measure H will raise prices and drive customers out of town, making it harder for Latino businesses to stay competitive with restaurants and grocers outside the city,'' according to Justo Acevedo Sotelo, owner of Antojitos Mi Amor restaurant. "My customers don't want to pay higher prices, and in this economy fewer of them can actually afford to.''
Blanca Gonzalez, owner of Pinata World, said the city is already plagued with vacant storefronts. "Residents of the city want new grocery stores and more options,'' Gonzalez said. "Measure H will discourage new stores from coming to the city and increase the burden on existing businesses.''
El Monte officials noted that the city was confronted with a $1.1 million deficit this fiscal year and has had to reduce its staff and cut benefits.
"The challenges we are facing are significant,'' Assistant City Manager Jesus Gomez said. "We are working to preserve the services our community needs and deserves.''