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El Monte soda tax faces strong backlash [Google+ hangout]

Times reporter Sam Allen will join city editor Shelby Grad at 4 p.m. in a Google+ hangout to discuss the El Monte soda tax measure on the November ballot.

The measure calls for a one-cent tax on each ounce of "sugar-sweetened" beverage sold and could raise as much as $7 million for the city each year if approved. But the backlash against Measure H has been overwhelming. The "No on H" committee has spent close to $1.3 million, compared to $57,000 in support of the proposal.

From Allen's latest story on the measure:

El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero thought he had a winner on his hands when he placed a measure on the November ballot to tax sugary drinks.

The working-class San Gabriel Valley city was facing the possibility of insolvency, and it has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the state. So Quintero was confident he could sell the tax to residents.

But then the beverage industry converged on El Monte, turning the race into the most expensive campaign in the city's history — and giving it an increasingly David-versus-Goliath feel.

The beverage industry forces are open about their desire to not just kill El Monte's proposal but to make the sugary drinks tax politically unfeasible to other cities. They've brought together consultants from across the country, including the firm of a Washington, D.C., political strategist whose famous "Harry and Louise" advertisements helped derail the Clinton administration's healthcare legislation in the early 1990s.

El Monte is now covered with "No on Measure H" signs and billboards. The measure's foes launched a sophisticated political campaign with phone banks and paid canvassers and blanketed the city with mailers catering to El Monte's diverse ethnic mix. Ads targeting Asians, for example, feature a woman named Stephanie Dang explaining how the tax would hit "boba milk tea." Ads targeting Latinos show a Mexican American woman talking about chocolate milk.


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Photo: No on Measure H signs are planted in the lawn near the drive-thru at Art's Burgers in El Monte. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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