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Leading the Fight Against Big Soda

Berkeley is taking on big soda and Josh Daniels (MPP/JD '08) is leading the charge. He co-chairs the campaign for Berkeley's Measure D, which proposes a penny-per-ounce tax on the distribution of sodas and sugary drinks.

“One in three kids in America is predicted to get diabetes in their lifetime,” says Josh, who is the president of the board of the Berkeley Unified School District. “Measure D isn’t a panacea, but I believe that soda and sugary drinks are akin to where tobacco was twenty-five years ago.”

The American Beverage Association begs to differ. The trade group has donated $800K (to date) to defeat the measure. In contrast, Yes on D has raised $75K to date.

“In 2012, the total contributions on all measures for the City of Berkeley was about $300K,” says Josh. “So this is an unprecedented amount of money for one campaign. Mailers, phone calls, door-to-door canvassing—with a budget that large, there almost nothing they can’t try. It will be a tough fight.”

Despite the large campaign coffer, Josh believes that the opponents of Measure D are underestimating the Berkeley community.

“Berkeley is united behind this issue,” he says, noting the unanimous support of the school board, city council and a long list of Berkeley organizations, businesses and individuals. “And the ABA doesn’t know our community.”

Josh grew up in Berkeley and graduated from Berkeley High. After completing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan, he came to UC Berkeley for a joint degree in public policy and law. It was here that he first became interested in electoral politics.

“I got involved in the Graduate Assembly and really loved it,” he says. “It was fascinating to be involved with the issues of the GA while studying policy and law.” After graduation, Josh went to work financially advising school districts. When seats opened up on the Berkeley school board, he ran and won.

As a school board member, Josh has engaged GSPP students to conduct Introduction to Policy Analysis (IPA) and Advanced Policy Analysis (APA) projects for the district.

“The consolidation of the Spanish-English two-way immersion program into one school was a direct result of an APA that demonstrated that the model was the best way to teach English language learners,” he says. “The program would have otherwise disappeared site by site; now that an entire school is bilingual, there is critical mass and a sense of community.”

Josh plans to deploy his GSPP training to address another pressing issue: the burgeoning number of students enrolling in Berkeley's public schools.

“The district’s designed its facility plan in 2008 and 2009  before I was on the board.  At the time, there was no indication we would see this type of increase in enrollment and transitional kindergarten hadn’t even been proposed,” he says. He plans to use Professor Eugene Bardach's “eightfold path” as a framework to address the issue. “The first board meeting will be all about 'defining the problem,'” says Josh. “Then we'll look at the data and determine the metrics we'll use to evaluate solutions.”

In addition to his work on the school board and as the co-chair for Measure D, Josh's “day job” is as a lawyer for the California School Board Association. Despite his very full schedule, Josh—who is running for re-election—is invigorated.

“I really enjoy campaigning and serving in elected office,” he says. “I highly recommend it to any GSPPer who might be interested. We need younger people in office for their energy and new ideas. We need the perspective of the new generation.”