San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener will always have a special place in my heart. Braving an onslaught of puns in a wiseacre nation, Wiener sponsored legislation to require that naked guys place a barrier between their butts and park seats. Later, he pushed for and won a ban on public nudity on city streets (except at events where people have grown to expect some exhibitionism). It was a gutsy move in a city where political correctness too often trumps common sense.
Thanks to Wiener, I haven't seen a naked guy's privates in public for months. Thus, it is in sorrow and not in anger that I report on Wiener's latest brainstorm, a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, to be placed on a future ballot. Because the revenue would go to local health and exercise programs, Wiener may succeed where earlier soda taxes -- such as the soda tax proposal in Richmond, Calif., rejected by 67 percent of voters -- failed.
Wiener visited the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board Tuesday with a group of fellow do-gooders in tow. Representatives from parks, hospitals and youth groups spoke up for the effort -- and not just because they stand to get a bite at the anticipated $31 million in annual revenue.
They mean well, of course. "We are experiencing an epidemic of health problems caused by sugary beverages -- including diabetes and obesity afflicting adults, teenagers and even young children -- and we have a responsibility to act to confront this escalating public health challenge," Wiener said in a press release.
He's right about America's obesity epidemic. Still, Wiener should resist the dangerous urge -- so prevalent among members of the hallowed political class -- to punish others for not being more like the political class. You don't see a lot of Big Gulps in City Hall. This is another San Francisco "why can't everyone else be more like us?" tax.
And it picks an easy target -- fat people.
If Wiener wants to scold people who drink too much sugar, fine. But it's not his job to squeeze residents and tourists because he doesn't approve of their choice of beverage.
Who pays for this tax? Soda drinkers, of course.
Large businesses and tony restaurants won't feel much of an impact from a soda tax, said Baylen Linnekin of the anti-regulation group Keep Food Legal. It's the "the small-business entrepreneurs, the taco trucks" that will pay. Linnekin believes that higher soda taxes will push sugar lovers to buy other sweets, also high in calories.
What happens when a six-pack of beer at the neighborhood convenience store is about the same price as soda -- maybe even cheaper? Seeing as City Hall knows best, the answer must be: healthier people.
It's too easy for Sanctimony City to pass another nanny law that penalizes apolitical people who have no downtown clout. Remember San Francisco's Happy Meal ban, when the city took a swipe at McDonald's in an alleged stand against obesity?
You would think San Francisco had a serious problem; mayhap its streets were littered with teensy toys that smelled like french fries.
Oh, wait. I'm wrong. San Francisco streets are littered with trash and feces and guys who are camped out on the sidewalk. City streets smell not of soda pop but of urine. Smart women don't wear sandals when they have to walk downtown, because this city is filthy.
The streets are a qualify-of-life issue. When residents and tourists drink too much soda, it doesn't really affect other taxpayers' quality of life. (Yes, I know. If folks need medical care, that costs taxpayers money. But if that's a city standard for butting in, then shut down all the bars.)
When city pols say they're going to clean up the streets, the homeless lobby fights back. But when city solons decide to put the squeeze on soda, they know the couch potato lobby won't stand up. When bullies go after the fat kid, he always hands over his lunch money.