Letters for the Week of October 31, 2012 

Readers sound off on the Oakland Zoo, sex trafficking, Richmond's soda tax, and more.

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A "conservation-minded zoo" would never propose a huge, destructive expansion into a wildland habitat of rare and threatened animals and plants. The key message of conservation-minded societies is that habitat loss and destruction is the number-one threat to animals worldwide. Why should we not care about our own California rare animals and plants? The zoo had other options for expansion that could have preserved much more of the park. Instead, it got greedy and proposed to double the size of the current zoo by carving a huge rectangle into the wildlands, instead of keeping the expansion as close as possible to the current zoo footprint.

If you think the A1 ballot has nothing to do with the expansion, think again. First, if the zoo can't afford to take care of the animals and buildings it has now, why is it expanding? How can it afford that? Second, the zoo already receives millions of dollars of support from taxpayers, and it won't open its books (!). It needs to funnel current funds into its expansion efforts, so it wants us to pay for "care of animals and children's programs." Read the fine print at the very end of the measure, where it says that the zoo's operators can change or delete what they say they are going to do and substitute it for something that they deem furthers the zoo's "mission." The real question is, what can't they use the money for?

Beth Wurzburg, Oakland

Talk Is Cheap

No one doubts that the good works done at the Oakland Zoo are performed by dedicated staff and volunteers. What is at issue is that this parcel tax is written in such a way that makes it all too easy to use the money for purposes other than animal care and educational programs within the current configuration of the zoo. If the zoo leadership really wanted Measure A1 to be as limited in scope as they say, they should have written it that way. But they didn't. 

I have been a neighbor of the zoo for 26 years, enjoy visiting the zoo, and appreciate the way they take care of the animals there. I don't like taking a position against the East Bay Zoological Society. But it should not abuse the public trust with this untrustworthy tax that could very well be used to build its expansion, no matter what it says now during the campaign. Its planned California exhibit will destroy a huge swath of a unique and precious wildland resource. We should expect that an organization that teaches environmental conservation would always try to practice what it preaches. Unfortunately, it's easier to talk about responsible conservation than it is to demonstrate it.

Barbara Kluger, Oakland

"The Richmond Soda War," Election 2012, 10/24

N Is Not What It Seems

In John Geluardi's one-sided account of the Richmond Measure N campaign and zeal to make the case for the so-called "soda tax," he misrepresented our campaign's arguments against the measure, and our position on assertions that soda is somehow especially, particularly, or uniquely responsible for the obesity crisis in this country.

To address the second matter first, Councilman Jeff Ritterman, the Measure N sponsor, and the handful of advocacy groups whose water he is carrying in Richmond are unfairly demonizing the soft-drink industry in search of new revenue sources and are making emotional appeals disconnected from the facts, which are these:

Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been and continues to be in decline in the United States while incidents of obesity have been on the rise.

Calories from soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages account for just 7 percent of the total caloric intake of the average American.

And total calories consumed are just one contributor to weight gain along with level of physical activity, genetic predisposition, and others.

So, to the contrary, there is no agreement on Ritterman's justification for Measure N.

Regarding the tax itself, the case against it is this: Measure N is a new business license tax. Under Measure N, businesses in Richmond would be required to pay a fee of a penny per ounce on their inventories or sales of any and all beverages containing any amount of any type of added sugar, including fruit juice concentrate, without exception.

The Measure N definition of sugar-sweetened beverage covers literally hundreds of products — most of them not soda, including flavored milks, many juices, sports drinks, sweetened teas and coffees, and numerous custom concoctions served at local restaurants, as well as certain nutritional supplements and even infant formulas containing added sugar.

Both sides agree that businesses would attempt to pass along to consumers the cost of the tax and of complying with it in the form of higher prices. Indeed, that is the whole point. Those price increases would be applied either to the hundreds of products covered by the measure or, more generally, across entire inventories.

The obviously regressive consequence of this — in higher grocery bills for families (whether they drink soda or not), and lost revenue for local stores and restaurants when consumers go elsewhere to shop and dine — are chief reasons why so many voters, businesses, community leaders and civic organizations oppose Measure N.

Another reason is the fact that the $3 million in estimated annual city tax revenue would be placed in the city's general fund without restriction on its use, other than it is spent for a lawful municipal purpose. Mr. Geluardi falsely writes that state law prevented the authors of N from earmarking the funds for anti-obesity efforts. Councilman Ritterman chose not to write it that way, because he didn't think he could get the two-thirds approval of voters that the California constitution requires of taxes imposed for particular uses or to fund particular programs.


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