UPDATE: The proposed “soda ban” did not make it out of committee Wednesday.—Editor
What’s the most pressing issue facing the City of San Jose? Is it following through on pension reform to reduce unsustainable sky-high pension liabilities? Paving our streets? Hiring more police officers? Restoring library hours?
Unfortunately, some at City Hall believe that telling you what you can and can’t drink trumps all of these other pressing concerns. Today a City Council committee will discuss a proposed ban on “sugary drinks” at all city properties and all city events. Just what is classified as a “sugary drink,” you ask? The answer may surprise you.
Soda is included in the ban, as you might expect. And energy drinks. However, diet soda has also been blacklisted along with sports drinks like Gatorade and, most surprisingly, whole milk.
You heard that right: City Hall wants to ban whole milk.
When the Rules Committee discusses this item on Wednesday at 2pm, it will be presented with a specific list of “sugar sweetened beverages” that details the specific amount of sugar allowed in certain types of drinks. For example, sports drinks “containing more than 42 grams of added sweetener per 20 ounce serving.” However, because this proposal is so specific, it immediately opens loopholes and creates inconsistencies.
Here are a few strange scenarios: a bottle of Snapple Kiwi Strawberry would be banned, but it has less calories and less sugar than a glass of orange juice, which would be allowed. A Diet Coke with zero grams of sugar would be banned, while a glass of chocolate milk with 95 grams of sugar would be allowed. At this time it’s unclear whether Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink would be included in the banned list.
As the father of five young children I understand the importance of a healthy diet for my kids. Obesity is a problem in the United States. However, it’s simple-minded to think that sugary drinks are the sole cause. My family’s pediatrician encouraged us to provide our growing children with whole milk rather than non-fat or reduced fat milk. This beverage ban would go directly against those recommendations. Personally, I trust the advice of our doctor over a politician’s cause of the day.
There are other scenarios to think about as well. Consider that when some diabetic children are in need of a sugar boost and insulin isn’t immediately available they will be given a soda. If this ban goes into effect, diabetic children won’t have soda available at city events in the case of an emergency.
The real-world implications of this ban are enough to make your head spin. Because this ban has vague references to exemptions at locations “that serve, in part, commercial purposes,” we are told that the SAP Center and possibly some other properties would allow banned drinks.
This means that when you take your family to a Sharks game you will be able to purchase soda, root beer, and all kinds of sugary drinks. But if you and your family go to Happy Hollow Zoo, those same drinks will be unavailable. And while you will presumably be able to buy a soda at a San Jose Giants game, a family birthday party at a city park would be prohibited from serving whole milk with cake.
I hope the City Council uses some common sense and votes against this overreaching, unnecessary, nanny-government proposal. There are too many other pressing needs like public safety, street repaving, and restoring neighborhood services.
I encourage you to call and email your representative on the City Council and let them know how you feel about this beverage ban.
Pete Constant is a councilmember for San Jose’s District 1.
Editor’s Note: Councilman Ash Kalra, who proposed the sugary drink ban, has been sending the following message to residents to explain his proposal:
Thanks for your honest feedback. At this point, the suggestion to limit what kinds of beverages can be sold at a limited number of city facilities is in its infancy. I understand that one of my colleagues is really taking the opportunity to create a stir, and that is his prerogative I suppose. Frankly, whenever we put forward a proposal, it is difficult to say how far the process it will go to becoming a city ordinance. At this point, I am only asking that it be placed on a priority setting session to be considered by majority vote of Council before there are any city resources or time put into it. However, your feedback is appreciated at any point in the process.
And, I hope it is clear that this is not even close to the only item I am working on. Over the years I have been the most vocal advocate to maintaining public safety services. I advocated against eliminating our SJPD violent crime enforcement team and burglary unit. I have routinely made efforts to add resources to the patrol and investigative units of the SJPD as well as increased capacity in the SJFD. Mr. Pete Constant has routinely voted against my efforts to increase public safety resources time and again as crime has hit record levels in our neighborhoods. I also have fought vigorously for increased library hours and was successful in efforts to gain more resources for neighborhood traffic calming. I have also worked with the Mayor on important incentives and programs to bring more companies to San Jose and create jobs for our residents. I am also the chair of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, vice-chair of VTA and on the CalTrain Board. This just touches on some of the work I am doing on behalf of the residents of San José. All of those duties keep me busy in creating a healthy, vibrant transit system throughout the region and air quality standards to make the air we breathe as clean as possible.
The proposal is designed similarly to an existing County regulation regarding sugar sweetened beverages at a number of their facilities. The state voted in similar limitations for schools back in 2005. The idea behind the consideration of such a ban has to do with limiting the most prevalent source that causes juvenile diabetes and obesity, which are sodas and extra sweetened beverages. The list of items in the initial recommendation is simply put out there to give a sense of what kinds of beverages are typically targeted by other jurisdictions. I am glad it has caused some heated discussion if it causes some to look at the damage the prevalence and availability of these beverages has on our youth. However, I did not intend to create any anger or disappointment in anyone. Creating a little bit less access at libraries and community centers is a small gesture to an understandably complex issue. Happy Hollow Park & Zoo already has a program called “Eat Like a Lemur” so it is already moving in the direction of offering healthier foods and less sugar sweetened beverages, so, there is little need to include it in any new proposal. Nothing has been decided yet so I really do appreciate your feedback and criticism of my putting forward this suggested recommendation to my colleagues.