By Lance Knobel
A second-round survey of likely voters in Berkeley reveals the difficulty some likely ballot measures will face for passage in November.
The City Council commissioned the survey to test the waters for potential ballot measures. The first council-directed survey done in early March showed good support for a potential tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Other measures, including a parks parcel tax, commercial vacancy tax and a pools bond, received tepid support. The latest survey, conducted in the second week of April, showed diminished support for the sugar tax, some hope for supporters of the commercial vacancy tax and a continuing struggle for parks funds.
The beverage industry has already begun campaigning against the potential Berkeley sugar-sweetened beverage tax, with promoted tweets on Twitter and a concerted effort to enlist merchants in opposition to the tax. In the March survey of 500 likely voters in Berkeley, 66 percent said they would support a 1-cent-per-ounce tax going to the general fund. Such a tax would require only a simple majority — 50 percent plus one vote — to pass in November. The April survey, however, showed only 53 percent support on the same question.
Results improved when the survey asked about a special tax, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass. A straightforward question on a dedicated tax with revenues devoted to a variety of health education programs received 67 percent support. When more information is provided about both the general tax and the special tax, support grows — to a potential yes vote of 68 percent for the general tax and a potential yes vote of 70 percent for the special tax.
Based on the history of ballot measures in Berkeley, campaigners believe support generally declines as anti-measure information is spread. On that basis, the sugar-sweetened beverage tax — whether posed as a general or special tax — could face a rough battle for passage, according to the survey.
A tax of $1 per square foot for ground floors of commercial properties vacant for two years received an unprompted 48 percent support in the survey. When respondents were provided further details — outlining the economic incentive to fill vacant shopfronts — support increased to a potential yes vote of 67 percent.
Park funding measures, according to the survey, will struggle to get two-thirds voter support. A 16 percent increase in the existing parks parcel tax — an average household increase of $43 per year — received only 54 percent support in the survey. A question on issuing $15 million in bonds with a $1 million special tax received only 51 percent support. Supporters of parks measures could find some consolation in the improvement in the tallies when further information was provided: The parcel tax increase rose to 70 percent potential yes, while the bond measure rose to 68 percent potential yes.
The survey results were presented and analyzed at Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting.