San Francisco: A New Way of Thought About Funding Treatment

A Nickel Per Drink Will Recoup Medical Costs of Alcohol

In November 2008, 61 percent of San Francisco voters approved Proposition

To provide treatment on demand for residents suffering from alcohol and

drug dependency. Despite this voter mandate, Mayor Gavin Newsom and the

Board of Supervisors have been engaged in an annual tug-of-war over

cutting and restoring treatment services. The mayor's cuts and the board's

restorations to substance abuse treatment are like a never-ending cycle,

repeated year after year in a downward spiral exacerbated by the ongoing

budget deficit.


The Alcohol Cost Recovery Fee I now have proposed will allow San Francisco

to recoup previously un-reimbursed costs for alcohol-related services. To

establish the fee, the city had to commission an extensive study to

measure these costs. The study, which was conducted by an independent

research firm, found that alcohol costs the city $17.7 million in

ambulance, treatment, prevention and hospital services. This figure does

not even include police and other nuisance costs to the city from

excessive drinking.


As we approach another half-a-billion-dollar budget deficit, the Alcohol

Cost Recovery Fee will ensure that we have stable funding to directly

support fire department emergency transport, prevention, treatment and

medical services to people whose lives are shattered by alcohol.

The Alcohol Cost Recovery Fee will charge alcohol wholesalers and

distributors who sell in San Francisco the equivalent of 3 to 5 cents a

drink to recover alcohol-related costs borne by the city. The fee was

purposely placed as far away as possible from the costs borne by

restaurants and bars, in order to minimize the burden to local businesses.


Unfortunately, big alcohol has employed two San Francisco lobby firms to

whip up local opposition to the fee and foment fear among bar and

restaurant owners and local merchants' organizations. They claim the fee

will be passed through as a 50 cents-to-$1 increase on a serving, and have

dressed up the fee as a major job and business killer. Yet according to

the controller's chief economist, the fee will decrease consumer spending

on alcohol by less than 1 percent and have very minimal impact on the



In San Francisco, where hospitality is a major industry, alcohol plays a

large role in our economy. San Francisco residents and visitors drink more

than their counterparts in other parts of California, creating economic

opportunity and an atmosphere conducive to abuse that requires government



I am constantly asked to do more to help those who have fallen prey to

alcohol abuse. This fee will enable the city to continue the work to make

our sidewalks safer and provide hope and dignity for people struggling in

the streets and alleys.


One thing I have learned is that during these hard times, the San

Franciscans who are most affected by the economic crisis are those who

need our public safety net more than ever. With our ongoing budget

deficits, San Francisco taxpayers call on us to be more innovative. This

fee is a strong remedy.


John Avalos is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and

serves as chair of the board's budget committeeThis is the actual article.