Albany Commission Reviews Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax and More

Albany Commission2024-03-17The Albany Racial Inclusivity and Social Equity Commission (RISE) met on March 5th to discuss several issues, such as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax  budget. In Albany there is an extra tax on sweet beverages. The purpose of the tax is to disincentivize drinking them and promote healthier living. The funds derived from the tax are sent to Albany Commissions to allocate. The RISE Commission offers their perspective on the budget and so do other commissions such as the Transportation Commission, but ultimately the overall Albany Council makes the final decision.

Many programs such as bike safety and music programs, which are already being funded by the tax, were discussed and whether or not to recommend them for the future budget. The program that stood out the most during the discussion was the crossing guard program in Albany, which has garnered high approval ratings due to its contribution to the preservation of a safe Albany. From a racial inclusivity standpoint, Commissioner Jynette Oji said that as a Black American in Albany, she appreciated walking her daughter to school and seeing Black crossing guards, and those funds for the safety program also enable her daughter to see people who look like her, which there aren’t many in her school.

There were also new proposals as to where some of the funds should go, such as to the Gill Tract Community Farm. The farm’s mission is to educate about farming, food justice as well as the Native American history of the land we are on. With the $54,000  that they requested, the Gill Tract Farm wishes to fund the establishment of a connection with the Albany School District and one of their ongoing outreach projects.

Many teachers from the Albany school system spoke out in support of this, such as Albany Middle School teacher Stacy Uyeda. She said a survey of the middle school teachers showed their willingness to take field trips to the farm, and have  students learn about Lisjan-Ohlone history and how to respect the land. Marin Elementary School teacher Emily Annand spoke of how much the farm has helped her when she just immigrated to the US. At that time, she couldn’t work and the farm provided her with a social outlet and she took her students there. Annand also said that one of her students commented that the farm is a fun place to explore with friends while eating healthy yummy food.  Albany High School teacher Miriam Walden spoke of how the money from the tax should go to the farm because they need it if they are to take students on field trips there. Walden said she started her lessons this year talking about the Lisjan and acknowledging their land and history. She said she wants to do the same next year except with a field trip to the farm while also teaching about food sustainability.

An intern from the farm, Nathen from the Culturally Relevant Food Team, called in to talk about the Gill Tract’s current project. The project the farm is doing is an outreach project to the community to understand the areas lacking in grocery stores that have cultural and ethnic food which sometimes are vital to one’s religion. After assessing this, the farm will ask if people from areas that lack this might be interested in being more involved in the farm and bringing more diverse produce with them as well as getting to farm some.

The Commission’s final decision was to recommend the new Gill Tract program with a budget of $54,000, allowing for field trips from Albany schools and for community outreach programs. The Commission also decided to recommend the continuation of the funding for the crossing guard program which has a budget of $170,000.

The rest of the meeting was spent discussing subcommittee activity such as the Racial Equity Survey which is to be distributed this spring. The Commission made two motions, one to dissolve the Racial Equity Survey Subcommittee which passed. The other was to dissolve the City Equity Statement Subcommittee, which also passed. They also talked about releasing a new Equity Statement but they felt unqualified and preferred having a professional do it. Since they do not currently employ a Racial Equity Officer they decided to wait until discussing the release of a new Equity Statement.

The RISE Commission’s next meeting will be held April 2nd.


–Yuval Magidash


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