'English first' law is explored by Hawthorne councilwoman

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Fri Mar 3 13:24:26 UTC 2006

>>From the Hawthorne Daily Breeze,
Originally published Thursday, March 02, 2006
Updated Thursday, March 02, 2006

'English first' law is explored by Hawthorne councilwoman

"Our signs in our city ought to reflect our English language," says Ginny
Lambert, who wants to implement a policy that would regulate city
displays' use of foreign phrases and characters.

By Doug Irving
Daily Breeze

The city of Hawthorne has begun crafting an English-first policy that
would relegate all foreign languages to second billing on commercial
signs. The policy, still under development, would force ethnic businesses
to rewrite their signs to include an English translation. Any other
language could share the sign, as long as it appeared below the English.
Other cities have tried to regulate foreign-language signs, especially as
they watched the English of their commercial districts give way to Asian
characters and Spanish phrases. Those laws have not always made it past
free-speech concerns raised in court. "Our signs in our city ought to
reflect our English language," said Hawthorne Councilwoman Ginny Lambert,
who first raised the idea of a sign regulation. "We are Americans. We
speak the English language here in this country." Lambert said she decided
that signs in the city needed to change after taking a drive past the
markets and offices of Hawthorne Boulevard. She noticed a small medical
building with a sign written in a language she didn't recognize and
couldn't understand.

It bothered her that the sign didn't communicate to anyone who didn't
speak the language. She cast her proposed new policy as a way to foster
understanding among the melting pot of people who pass through Hawthorne.
She said she'd exempt ethnic restaurants from the policy. But otherwise,
"English first." "I don't care if they want to put another sign
underneath," she added.  "But in this country, English first." Lambert
tried to get her proposal onto this week's City Council agenda, but the
city attorney suggested the Planning Commission take a look at it first.
The commission could take several months to forward a recommendation to
the full City Council.

Cities such as Torrance and Temple City have taken steps to ensure that
stores at least identify themselves in the Roman alphabet most familiar to
English speakers. Some have gone further, requiring that business owners
reserve a good percentage of sign space for English. Businesses in
Torrance are supposed to post at least one sign with their name in Roman
letters and their address in Arabic numbers. In Monterey Park, at least
half of any business sign must be written in Roman letters.

"It's an issue of public safety," said Chris Jeffers, the city manager of
Monterey Park. "If people saw something happening, they could at least say
it's at ABC store."  A federal district judge knocked down a similar --
though not identical -- Pomona law in 1989. That law required that half of
any business sign be in English, according to later legal reviews of the
case. The judge concluded that Pomona was unconstitutionally regulating
the cultural expression of the sign owners. Its law, he wrote,
discriminated against sign owners who used foreign alphabets and violated
the First Amendment protection of free speech.

Hawthorne City Attorney Glen Shishido cited the Pomona case this week when
he recommended that the city's Planning Commission review any sign
regulations. "We need to be careful," he told the council. Lambert let out
an audible sigh. "I'd be happy to go to court," she told the attorney,
"and argue this until I drop dead."


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