Los Angeles Business Journal

Sugary Drink Tax Question in El Monte to be Watered Down

By Howard Fine Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In something of a victory for restaurateurs, a judge has struck down the city of El Monte’s proposed title and summary of a sugary drinks tax measure on the November ballot as too partisan and ordered the city to change the wording.

Measure H would impose a one-cent-per-ounce tax on businesses in the city that sell beverages containing sugar. The measure’s author, El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero, and other supporters claim the tax would help prevent obesity while raising money to fund vital city services.

But local restaurateurs and other business owners say the tax would be nearly impossible to administer and would hurt businesses by driving away shoppers and patrons.

Opponents, led by El Monte Planning Commissioner Art Barrios, also filed suit over the wording of the measure’s title and summary, calling it misleading to voters. The title read, “The El Monte Vital City Services/Childhood Obesity Prevention Measure,” while the summary listed specific city services – including after school programs and health and fitness programs – that would presumably benefit from the measure.

Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin on Sept. 6 struck down the city’s wording on the title and summary, saying it was “impermissibly partisan.” Instead, Lavin ordered the city to print the title, “The El Monte Sugar Sweetened Beverage Business License Fee Measure,” as well as a new summary that said the money raised would “maintain city general fund services.”

The city appealed the ruling, but the state Court of Appeal on Monday rejected the appeal.

Tax opponents welcomed the ruling.

“We applaud Judge Lavin’s ruling protecting El Monte voters’ right to a fair election and enforcing the city’s obligation to provide an impartial ballot label for Measure H on the November ballot,” the El Monte Citizens Against Beverage Taxes said in a statement released Tuesday.