La Iglesia Católica San Marcos Celebra su Centenario

Entrevista por Iraida Santillan

Nota del Redactor: En Richmond, pocas cosas han estado presentes tanto tiempo como la Iglesia Católica San Marcos, que celebra su centenario en la ciudad este año. Para conocer más sobre este sostén de la comunidad, la reportera de Richmond Pulse se sentó con el pastor actual, el Padre Ramiro Flores, para una discusión sobre la San Marcos de ayer y de hoy.

Richmond Pulse: ¿Me puedes contar la historia de la Iglesia San Marcos?

Padre Ramiro: A como lo tengo entendido, es la iglesia más vieja de Richmond. 
La iglesia empezó en 1912 con inmigrantes italianos que llegaban aquí. Después en la década de los 40’s muchas personas afro americanas empezaron a llegar y fueron la mayoría aquí hasta la década de los 70. En esa década hubo otro cambio, aunque siempre había una mezcla de diferentes culturas y razas. Desde la década de los 70 hasta ahora ha sido la población Latina, junta con los afro Americana.

RP: ¿Como ha sobrevivido la iglesia tanto tiempo?

FR: En realidad, esta es una de las iglesias más pobres. Hubo un tiempo donde querían cerrar la iglesia y la comunidad se unió – afro americanos e hispanos – muchos de ellos ayudaron a recaudar fondos. Antes rentaban una casa aquí de la iglesia para que alguien viviera ahí y así fue como sobrevivieron.

[Ahora sobrevivimos] en mayoría con las donaciones de la comunidad de la iglesia – en mayoría de la colección del domingo, y el festival anual en la primera semana de octubre, que es el festival más importante de recaudación de fondos.

RP: ¿Cómo celebraran el aniversario centenario de San Marcoss?

FR: Las fechas para la celebración del centenario son el 2do y 3ro de noviembre. Vamos a invitar a todos los padres y pastores que han estado aquí – al principio la mayoría eran salesianos*.
Y el sábado tendremos una cena con ellos y miraremos una película que estamos creando sobre la historia de la iglesia desde que se construyo. El domingo, tendremos una celebración con todos los obispos y los padres de esta diócesis para celebrar con nosotros. Y después tendremos una reunión con la comunidad entero para celebrar los cien años del ministerio con esta comunidad de Richmond.

RP: ¿Te puedes describir a ti mismo no solo como un sacerdote pero como un activista?

FR: ¡Sí! Últimamente, además de ser un sacerdote, estaba tomando un curso en psicología, porque veo la necesidad. En este momento, estoy regresando a volver a integrarme más en las necesidades sociales principales de la comunidad. Los sacerdotes anteriores y yo mismo, venimos del mismo seminario donde el enfoque era pastoral, con la gente. No tanto litúrgico pero pastoral – también con la liturgia – pero realmente estando ahí con la gente, y ayudándolos entender sus necesidades.

RP: ¿Qué hace a San Marcos especial?

FR: San Marcos ha sido poderosa en el escenario político porque ha habido sacerdotes activistas en esta iglesia, y también es importante saber que aunque es una de las iglesias más pobres, es la que tiene más servicios para la gente que cualquier otra iglesia a la que he ido. Eh estado en cinco iglesias en Antioch, Pinole y Concord y de todas esta es la que tiene más servicios para la gente, y esta orientada a dar servicios, y también en el ministerio a aquellos necesitados.

Tenemos a St. Vincent De Paul distribuyendo la comida para los necesitados. Tenemos un lugar aquí en la oficina donde referimos a gente a abogados para inmigración o diferentes cosas. Cuando hay violencia familiar los referimos. Es como un lugar para encontrar ayuda para la gente que tiene cual quier tipo de necesidad. Los referimos a lugares donde puedan recibir cuidado médico.

Vemos a muchos padres que son referidos a nosotros de [otras iglesias] como de San Pablo o de St. Cornelius porque [esas iglesias] no tienen los servicios que nosotros tenemos. Incluso hemos traído servicios de terapia aquí a través de Catholic Charities. [Para casos de inmigración], traemos a abogados para que las personas puedan hablar con ellos abiertamente y los pueden aconsejar sobre si su caso pasara o no, con el fin de que no pierdan su tiempo. La iglesia es 70 por ciento inmigrante cuando se trata de Latinos y también hay una población de afro americanos aquí que trabajan junto con los latinos.

*Los salesianos eran un grupo Católico empezado en los fines del siglo 19 que puso énfasis en trabajo caritativo con los niños y las familias pobres durante la revolución industrial.

Together, Residents Weave Tale of a Healthier Richmond

First Person, Tania Pulido

During the past three years that I’ve been working at Urban Tilth, I’ve had experiences that have drastically expanded my skills, development and overall understanding of the world. One such experience came on Sunday, October 21st, when some co-workers and I participated in an inspiring event, organized by the Cornerstone Theater Company and The California Endowment. At the event, attended by local residents and organizations participants shared their personal stories related to health issues in Richmond, stories that Cornerstone is now taking and turning into a short play about the community’s vision for a healthy future.

My own interest in working toward a healthier Richmond stems from my upbringing, and now as a community organizer, I was happy to be in a room with so many community leaders, fellow youth, and people who care about the same issues I do.

I can remember, as a very young child, eating lots of junk food – things like Cup O’ Noodles, Hot Cheetos, soda and chips. I ate this kind of food every day, sometimes even for breakfast. No matter how hard my mother tried to get us to eat healthier, my diet consisted of a lot of empty calories.

Now that I’m older and understand health issues better, I feel a sense of responsibility to educate other young people and adults so that they can learn from my experiences. I attended the Cornerstone event with this in mind, and with the goal of connecting with other individuals and organizations to help educate people about the relationship between food and health.

I was inspired to hear the stories and perspectives of other people in attendance. I especially enjoyed a performance by two young spoken word artists from RAW Talent. The two young men wrote and performed a piece about health in Richmond that really truly captured the problems our community is facing.

I was very pleased by the event and I’m even more excited to be part of a community initiative that has engaged such a brilliant, talented, and inspiring group of people. I know that all of the stories we shared that day will come together to make for a great play, and if we can channel all of the passion that we hold for our community, I know we’ll succeed in making Richmond the healthy place that we all dream it can be.

California’s Pickiest Eaters Grade New School Lunches

News Report, Jacob Simas / NAM Youth Wire Reporters

Two months into a new school year that saw stricter federal nutrition guidelines go into effect for school meals, youth reporters from New America Media fanned out in high schools across California to interview their peers and check out the view from the lunch line.

What the reporters found were wide variations in how students grade their new school meals. While none of the school meal programs earned an A, the overwhelming majority of students surveyed – 85 percent – gave them passing grades, and only 13 percent actually handed out F’s.

The findings correlate with those of a formal telephone and internet-conducted survey of students and parents just released by The California Endowment, which found that students and parents in the Golden State prefer the new meals to the old ones, by a ratio of 3 to 1.

The findings also starkly contrast with a report in the New York Times that described the sentiments of some high school students on the East Coast and in Kansas, who are rebelling against the healthier menus on social media, and several others who said they are throwing the food away in preference for chips, cookies and other vending machine options.

New America Media’s youth reporters carried out their peer survey in six California communities – Richmond, Fresno, Merced, South Kern County, Long Beach and the Eastern Coachella Valley — where the vast majority of students attending K-12 public schools qualify for free or subsidized lunch programs. While anecdotal, the interviews – in all, 45 students were surveyed — shed light on what high school students in California are thinking, both positive and critical, about their school lunches.

What exactly do California’s pickiest eaters like most and what do they dislike about their new lunches? What would they change to improve the fare? And how often do they eat school meals?

The youth reporters found some intriguing trends, ones that didn’t always fit the stereotype of junk food-loving, soda-guzzling teenagers. Indeed, if there was one consistent theme, it was an endorsement for fresher food, tastier food, a better variety to choose from and larger portions. None of the students interviewed by NAM mentioned actually throwing their food away. In fact, a number complained that there isn’t enough food being offered and they are often left hungry.

A majority said chicken is their favorite food item — it holds the most flavor, according to students — followed by fruits and vegetables:

“The spicy chicken patty, it’s the only thing with actual flavor. Usually I have to add a bunch of condiments to everything else in order to taste good.”
— Gumaro Vargas, 17, Olive Crest Academy, Coachella

“The spicy chicken burger because it tastes great and the texture has a nice feeling to it.”
— Isidro Gonzalez, 17, Arvin High School, South Kern County

“The best item, I guess I would have to say, is the chicken sandwich.”
— Nancy Her, 16, Edison High School, Fresno

“The salad is my favorite because that seems like the healthiest thing on there. Everything is greasy.”
— Shante Henderson, 16, Wilson Classical High School, Long Beach

“The fruit, because it’s the one thing that seems fresh.”
— Mia Robinson, 17, DeAnza High School, Richmond

“It would probably be the spicy chicken sandwich. It has flavor and its taste is a lot better than the other things served.”
— Juan Rodriguez, 17, Buhach Colony, Atwater

A majority of students interviewed said they would improve on the school lunches by adding more fresh fruits and vegetables, providing more options in general, and improving the presentation. A few said they needed more time to eat, and those paying for their lunch said they would appreciate lower prices:

“I would change the way the food is cooked and use fresh food, not expired or frozen.”
— Isidro Gonzalez. 17, Arvin High School, South Kern County

“I would like to see more fresh fruits and vegetables that are actually meals, not just sides.”
— Thomas Moua, 16, Buhach Colony High School, Merced

“It’s healthy for us, but portion size is not very much so not all students are very satisfied with what they have and they’re not fully satisfied with the selection either. There’s not that big of a selection. Also cheaper food and drinks.”
— Christian Gangler, 15, Wilson Classical High School, Long Beach

“I’d say the calories are too low because I still feel hungry afterwards.”
— Gumaro Vargas, 17, Olive Crest Academy, Coachella

“More choices, because it’s not that many.”
— Trinity Jackson, 18, DeAnza High SChool, Richmond

“There’s not a lot for everyone. If you’re a vegetarian, all you have to eat is salad every day, and that’s about it.”
— Shaina Prakash, 16, Edison High School, Fresno

“Something I would like to see improved is since they have yogurt with a piece of bread, that is not actually a plate of food. I think there should be a bigger version included to that plate. Also I would like there to be more vegan and vegetarian food and for the food to be more fresh.”
— Yenesis Reyes, 16, Wilson Classical High School, Long Beach

How often do these teenage food critics take advantage of their school meal program? A majority (71 percent) said they are regular diners (at least 3 times per week), describing the school meals as vital to their diets. More than 50 percent said they eat the school meals every day. Even some of the sharpest critics said the school meals are what keeps them from going hungry:

“Every day, because I get hungry.”
— Brenda Espinoza, 15, Golden Valley High School, Merced

“Only about three times a week, and I only get them from the salad bar, because I don’t like getting them from the cafeteria because I know most of them are high in salt and oil, saturated fats.”
— Naomi Garzon, 17, Edison High School, Fresno

“Every day, because I kind of have to. It’s too much work to prepare lunch in the mornings.”
— Daniel Hernandez, 17, Olive Crest Academy, Coachella

“I eat every day, ‘cause I would starve when I get home.”
— Nancy Her, 16, Edison High School, Fresno

“Hardly ever, because I don’t like it.”
— Mia Robinson, 17, DeAnza High SChool, Richmond

“I’ll eat two times a week because it’s expensive to purchase $2.75 per lunch.”
— Isidro Gonzalez, 17, Arvin High School, South Kern County

“Only when they have hot dogs, because that’s the only thing I like.”
— Trinity Jackson, 18, DeAnza High School, Richmond

“When I was a junior or freshman I used to eat it every day a week but now I only eat it maybe 3 times a week. To me, it’s the same thing over and over again. It doesn’t even fill me anymore.”
— Abrhajaam Berruecos, 17, Wilson Classical High School, Long Beach

The varied responses are not surprising, given that some schools have the advantage of offering meals cooked from scratch in their own kitchens, and some districts have already invested several years in their healthy school meal programs, while others are only just now getting started.

Students who gave their school lunches the lowest grades (F’s and D’s) tended to come from two urban communities (Richmond and Long Beach), while students in the rural communities were far more likely to put a positive spin on the revamped school menus.

The jury is still out what the long-term impact of the new federal nutrition guidelines on school lunches will be on students. But as the aforementioned anecdotal survey of students in some of California’s poorest school districts show, teenagers — by far the pickiest eaters — not only rely on the meals to stave off hunger, but give the new school lunches passing grades, especially when they’re fresh and tasty.

Support the RAW TALENT Kickstarter

Click here for the link to the RAW Talent Kickstarter page.

Romeo Is Bleeding (working title) is a documentary about young artists inspiring change in an impoverished city. The students of Richmond California’s creative writing group, RAW Talent (Richmond Artists With Talent), are no strangers to trauma. Their city is small but the homicide rate is abnormally high, with teens killing each other over turf divisions between North and Central Richmond. In a community so deeply entrenched in a cycle of retaliation, there are many dead-end streets and few positive outlets. Yet the students at RAW Talent have found their voices through spoken word poetry and are determined to change Richmond with their art.

How I Got By Without My Dad

Story and Video, Valerie Klinker | New America Media

Right before her high school graduation, Danielle Dokes heard the news. Her dad was being released from prison. She thought her father would get to see her graduate.

But he never showed up.

Danielle, an 18-year-old resident of Richmond, Calif., has seen her father going in and out of prison for the last 10 years.

“Every time he calls me, I be like, ‘Hi Jeff.’ I have never called him dad, because I feel like he is not a dad, and I really, really want to have a relationship with him,” she says.

When Danielle called her father to tell him she graduated from high school and is going to go to a four-year college in Alabama, he did not congratulate her. He told Danielle he would buy her a class ring as a graduation gift but he never did.

“It was good [when he first got out of prison],” Danielle says. “He called me, he had a job, he was doing good, and then he just fell off. I guess he was using again and my sister would tell me like, ‘Yeah, Daddy’s doing the stuff again.’”

After being released from prison, Jeffrey started going to AA meetings, working and helping out his mother. But it wasn’t long before he was locked up again for drugs.

“One of his hardest things is parenting ‘cause I think he look at me like a friend,” says Danielle. “I tested him one day when I was on the phone, I was like, ‘Oh Dad I sell drugs’…thinking a dad was going to go crazy, like, ‘Oh no, not my daughter!’ He was like, ‘Well, if that’s what you want to do then that’s what you want to do.”

Sometimes Danielle thinks she would rather her father were dead then in jail. At least then, she says, she would have a good reason for not being able to have a real relationship with him.

“I was looking at my home life, I was looking at how my dad is, and why he does that,” she explains. “There was a point where I gave up, and I was like, ‘I’m done.’”

But Danielle still wishes that she had a better relationship with her dad.

“I wish I could have a relationship with him that’s someone trying to help me go far. When I give up, I want someone there, like, ‘No, I’m here for you, don’t give up,’” says Danielle.

When Danielle graduated on June 8th from El Cerrito High School, she became the first person in her family to graduate and go to a four-year college. It’s been a goal she’s been working on since she was a freshman in high school.

“My college sat me down and said, ‘When you were a freshman, you said you wanted to go [to college, but] the path you were on, you weren’t about to go there. You were going to end up at home, working a minimum wage job, not able to take care of your family. If you want to be successful, either you can go this route or [the] other route.”

Danielle is now attending Alabama A&M, where she plans to get a degree in psychology.

She says she is going through college without any assistance from her father.

“I wanna at least show somebody that you can make it,” she says. “As long as you keep trying, you can make it.”

¿Qué Celebrida Promocionara la Salud?

Comentario, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Es seguro que mientras se ve la televisión, un comercial de refresco con una celebridad, músico o deportista pasara al menos una vez. De hecho, para muchas celebridades, que aparecen en comerciales de soda eso simboliza el logro de fama mundial. Piensa en Michael Jackson y Beyonce y los comerciales de Pepsi, o anuncios de Coca-Cola con Michael Jordan, y más recientemente los atletas de los Juegos Olímpicos de Londres 2012.

El medio de la televisión es excelente para promover productos, ya que llega a un público amplio, especialmente durante eventos llamativos como el Super Bowl y las Olimpiadas. Los espectadores se ven sometidos a estos anuncios, por supuesto, con la opción de cambiar el canal si les gustaría. El tema de celebridades promocionando sodas en comerciales, o cualquier tipo de publicidad, es relevante hoy en la discusión de que si la publicid verdaderamente influye en las compras de los consumidores.

Los debates sobre la propuesta de azúcar bebida en Richmond esta llevando este asunto a la luz. Por un lado, el resultado deseado es que los nuevos impuestos frenarán la epidemia de diabetes estragos en las comunidades de color. Los opositores argumentan que dicho impuesto afecta a los pobres injustamente, y aún así, la gente debe tener la libertad de tomar sus propias decisiones. Sin embargo, ¿que tan válida es esa línea de razonamiento, si las empresas de refrescos a diario tienen mas publicidad que las iniciativas locales de impuestos a través de los medios de comunicación?

Comerciales de soda son la norma. Soda es parte de la cultura americana, cruzandose a la cultura pop a la perfección que su influencia es difícil de ignorar. En este momento, no hay igualdad de condiciones sobre los que tratan de influir en el debate a favor y en contra de soda. Soda es terrible para la salud, eso se sabe. Pero la influencia de las empresas de bebidas, con su estrategia de saturar los medios de comunicación y la comunidad con comerciales y el apoyo de celebridades, está tan extendido que es difícil imaginar anuncios que hablen sobre los efectos de la soda en la salud tengan el mismo alcance.

Sin embargo, el campo de juego debe ser nivelado. Así que … ¿que celebridades, atletas y músicos se apuntaran para hacer un comercial para el agua en lugar de soda? ¿Quién será el portavoz para la salud?

The Soda Tax – Missing the Point?

Blog, Various Authors

Keyannie Norford, 17
I know that no matter what the price of soda is, if I want it I will go get it. As a senior attending De Anza High School, I also know how popular soda is among teens. I used to drink so much soda that it started to make me sick, and I finally had to decide between my health and this sugary drink: I chose my health.

But even though I’ve stopped drinking soda, I think a tax on sugary drinks is absurd. Raising taxes will not stop people from handing over their cash at the register and it will not stop obesity rates from rising.
Plus, where is all this extra money going to go? The money from Measure N is supposed to better local schools and communities. The problem is, who will make sure that really happens?
And just because raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol has been successful in lowering sales and limiting exposure, that doesn’t mean it will work for sugary drink consumption. Soda is the most popular refreshment in America today, and raising taxes on something so popular will only put a dent – if even that — in the problems of obesity and healthcare.

Jennifer Dueñas, 19
Richmond youth are this city’s leading consumers of sweetened beverages and will be the most impacted by the proposed soda tax. So why do so few know about it?

“I don’t feel comfortable answering any questions about the soda tax,” said Anthony Martinez, 19, “because I don’t know what it is.”

The purpose of Measure N – the sweetened beverage tax on the ballot this November — is to combat obesity in the Richmond community. It is not just about the soda, or even about small business, where much of the focus around the debate has been.

According to a 2011 report for the Richmond City Council, which focused on the impact of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption on the health of Richmond residents, 24 percent of children aged WHAT’S THE AGE HERE? consume one or more sweetened beverages daily. Another 67 percent of adolescents consume one or more sweetened beverages daily.

Youngsters here have a big stake in what happens come November. But when I asked thirteen of Richmond’s young folks, including Martinez, about what this soda tax means to them, most said they’d never heard of it.

Monica Diaz, 19, said that while she didn’t know much about the tax, she did think it would “hurt small businesses, but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong because it’s not its purpose.”

Of the thirteen, ten youth admitted that they didn’t know what the soda tax actually was. Two guessed that it had something to do with some sort of health issue. Only one young person was completely knowledgeable of the tax and is in favor of the measure.

While young people’s ignorance of a tax that directly affects them is disappointing, even more saddening is the lack of effort that has been placed into educating the community around what this measure is really about.

Is Sugar A Drug?

Feature, Jessica Arevalo

A spoonful of sugar is no longer the way to help the medicine go down.

Mary Poppins, with her stern British demeanor and cheeky sense of humor, enthralled generations of families. How many children have since dreamed of having a nanny that could clean their room with nothing but a snap of her fingers and a song?

Now imagine a modern day Poppins, slowly wafting down from the sky on her giant umbrella, and landing in Richmond, California. Would she befriend the chimney sweeps over at the Chevron refinery? Would she still be offering a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down?

Times have changed since 1964 when Walt Disney released the film Mary Poppins, and it is hard to imagine any super-nanny of today encouraging children to eat an abundance of sugar.

So is Proposition N, a penny-per-ounce tax on sellers of sugar-sweetened beverages in Richmond, ahead of the curve? Or is it simply a case of anti-sugar hysteria going too far?

Just How Bad Is It?

We already know that when we crack open a can of cola or sip on a sugar-sweetened iced-tea, we are ingesting an enormous amount of sugar. We try to eat healthy and make the right choices, but at the end of the day we are tired, we have to stretch our dollars, and food is often a source of comfort. Plus, we were practically raised on sugar. So it can’t be that bad, right?

Even the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which says that both legal and illegal drugs affect one’s body and brain, makes not one mention of sugar as a drug on its website.

Yet most people, at some point in their life, have experienced a “sugar-rush.” Either in their childhood when they ate too much cake, soda, and ice cream or perhaps as an adult when they went back for that second helping of dessert.

If sugar is indeed a drug, it’s one of the most socially acceptable drugs that exist. It is sold over the counter. It is sold to all ages. It is sold in amounts ranging from singular doses to bulk purchase.

Furthermore, the negative consequences of over-consuming sugar are prevalent and visible in our communities. According to, 51 percent of students in the city of Richmond in 2010 were overweight or obese. And the rates of diabetes for youth and adults alike are rising, across the board.

But like the smoker who knows cigarettes are unhealthy – there is a warning on the box – and decides to smoke anyway, the sugar consumer knows that sugar is unhealthy yet still decides to indulge.

Harm Reduction

If “a spoonful of sugar” was an acceptable way to take medicine fifty years ago, it’s now been replaced by seemingly more reasonable health practices. It’s insightful to consider Measure N, commonly referred to as Richmond’s “Soda Tax,” within the context of one such practice, known as harm reduction theory: a set of ideas and strategies that seek to reduce the negative impact and consequences of drug use.

While it may seem like a stretch to extend strategies used for kicking substances such as heroin and cocaine to sugar, let’s try. Below are a few of the principles central to harm reduction, followed by an analysis of how Measure N fits within the theory:

For better and or worse, drug use is a part of our world. Its harmful effects should be minimized, rather than simply ignored or condemned.

People drink soda. Measure N is an approach that neither ignores nor condemns this fact, but rather accepts that consuming soda is a choice with costly health risks.

Will the soda tax stop people from drinking soda? Probably not. But it may make consumers think twice before indulging.

Raising the quality of individual and community life and well-being should be the criteria for any successful intervention or policy.

Estimates put the potential revenue generated by Measure N at roughly $3 million annually. Measure O would implement a non-binding advisory committee charged with suggesting how best to direct the funds, namely toward community health education and efforts to prevent obesity and diabetes, including the construction of athletic fields across the city. The measure would not ban soda, but rather build a community safety net for the health fallout of over-consumption.

Non-judgmental, non-coercive services and resources should be provided to people who use drugs in order to assist them in reducing harm to themselves, and to their community.

Measure N has been criticized in some circles as being an attack on overweight people.
But while the measure focuses on generating revenue for obesity prevention programs, not just overweight people drink soda. It is not about stigmatizing any one sector of the community.

Poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.

Implicit in Measure N is an acknowledgement that there exists a direct correlation between being poor and being unhealthy. However, Measure N by itself can only begin to make headway on the bigger issue of what the food ecosystem looks like in some of Richmond’s most business-scarce sections. When the only source of food in one’s neighborhood is a liquor store or fast food restaurant, how does a soda tax create change?
The real and tragic dangers associated with drug use should not be minimized or ignored.

According to a report by Contra Costa Health Services released in 2011, in the City of Richmond 32 percent of students were obese and 20 percent were overweight. The report, prepared for the Richmond City Council in December of last year, shows that these numbers are clearly linked to the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Measure N will certainly not be the final answer to wiping out the scourge of obesity, diabetes or other health problems in Richmond caused by the over-consumption of sugar, but the ideas behind it are rooted in real and tragic facts.

Decision Time On “Soda Tax” Debate

News Report, Malcolm Marshall

RICHMOND, Calif. – Nai Saechao, a first time voter, says she hasn’t made up her mind about Richmond’s so-called soda tax, which is set to appear on this November’s ballot. While she admits obesity is a problem, like other residents here she’s not convinced taxing soda is the solution.
“There’s a lot of things that contribute to the obesity problem,” Nai says. “If people learn to moderate their intake, it will help.”
Measure N calls for a penny-per-ounce tax on all sugar-sweetened drinks sold in the city. First proposed in May, the idea has split the community, with small business owners and community health advocates among those squaring off over the measure’s potential health and financial impacts.
The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, a local group backed by the American Beverage Association (ABA), has put itself behind advertising efforts, spending more than $350,000 hoping to convince voters like Nai to come out against the proposal.
“If people really want all that soda,” says the 18-year-old, “they’re going to buy it regardless. I don’t want the local businesses to be hurt from it.”
According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Big Soda” companies are expected to spend upwards of $1 million in the coming weeks to sour residents on the idea of the tax. The ABA has described it as “unfair to the community” and “misguided.”
If it passes, Measure N would be the first such tax in the country and an unprecedented step toward greater government involvement in the ongoing effort to combat obesity. In September, New York passed a controversial ban on sugary drinks over 16 ounces, while the Southern California city of El Monte has a similar initiative on its ballot.
Richmond has a childhood obesity rate of 51% and finds itself front and center of the national debate about how far government should go in discouraging the consumption of soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks. Proponents of the tax have gone so far as to equate soda to cigarettes, in terms of the danger it poses to public health.
“No on Measure N” billboards and advertisements, meanwhile, have popped up all over town, most noticeably along the main commercial strip of 23rd Ave.
19-year-old Manuel Floriana isn’t registered and so does not plan to vote. But he’s all for the tax, “because it will not only help kids in the community, but help adults [choose] healthy alternatives. [Plus] I heard [the revenue] is going toward parks.”
Estimates put the potential funds generated by Measure N at roughly $3 million annually. A separate ballot measure, Measure O, would lead to the creation of a non-binding advisory committee tasked with steering the funds generated by Measure N toward health education and other efforts to prevent obesity and diabetes, including the construction of athletic fields across the city.
Karina Carmona of Taqueria La Estrella on 23rd Avenue doesn’t agree with the tax, but says if its something business has to comply with, then they will do it. “The reasons they give, for children and more parks, we think it’s more about creating the money. If it goes to what they say, then I will feel better about it,” says Carmona.
“Everything for the consumer is going up, but wages are not going up. (The cost of) produce is going up, and people are still losing their jobs and homes,” she added.
Councilman Jeff Ritterman, who first introduced Measure N, says the hope is that just as cigarette sales have become less and less profitable in Richmond’s corner stores, healthier beverage options will replace sugar sweetened beverages over time. “We would like to transform our economy,” says Ritterman. “We want to maximize the healthy things our economy produces and have more profits go the to healthier option.”
In a report prepared for the Richmond City Council by the Contra Costa County Public Health department, data from 2010 shows that more than 50 percent of children in Richmond are overweight or obese. The report also defines a sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) as a non-alcoholic beverage, carbonated or non-carbonated, that contains added caloric sweeteners. Included in this definition are traditional sodas (such as Coca-Cola, Sprite), sports drinks (like Gatorade) and “energy drinks.”
The report also identified SSBs as the “largest single source of excess, non-nutritional calories in the American diet,” and concluded that there exists “a strong correlation between obesity and consumption of SSBs.”
Yet even the sobering realty behind these numbers may not be enough to convince some voters that a tax on sugar sweetened beverages is the way to go.
Local business owners say they worry consumers will choose to go to surrounding cities to shop, causing much needed money to leave Richmond. If Measure N passes, a 16-ounce bottle of soda that now costs $0.99 would rise to $1.15.
Zee Handush owns a smoke shop inside Pacific East Mall, in the Richmond Annex neighborhood, and has been in the tobacco business for over 20 years. For him the soda tax isn’t just a business issue.
“I [began] selling cigarettes for 70 cents a pack and now I’m selling them for $7 a pack. I’m still in business,” explains Handush. “I’m gonna probably spend an extra $5,000 a year so as a business owner I will be affected. [But] as responsible business owners we should encourage business to sell healthier options.”
Tania Pulido, 23, is a Brower Award winner for her local food activism and a junior at UC Berkeley. She will also be voting for the first time this November.
“I boycotted the last election (in 2010),” she says, “(because) I was upset that Obama was planning to bail out the banks.” But this year is different. “I realize that I have to find a middle ground, plus I really don’t want Romney to win,” she said. “Also, I’m voting because if I want to motivate my peers and friends to vote, then I have to do it too.”
As for Measure N, Pulido is planning to vote yes. She says that if by voting yes on Measure N she can support more soccer fields and education around obesity in the community, she’s all for it.
“Parents aren’t taking the steps necessary to keep their children from being obese. The (soccer) fields and education can help break the cycle of obesity in our families,” she explains. “Clearly there is a lack of education around the issue. People know (soda) is unhealthy but they continue to drink it.”

Additional reporting by William Haynes