[lg policy] Long Beach (Calif.) Bridging language barrier

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 7 16:44:36 UTC 2011

Bridging language barrier

By Eric Bradley Staff Writer
Posted: 11/05/2011 10:07:23 PM PDT
Updated: 11/05/2011 10:11:15 PM PDT

LONG BEACH - Evangelina Ramirez had a "pandilla" problem, as she
called it. Gang members were making trouble in her Long Beach
neighborhood, so Ramirez, who was born in Mexico but has lived in the
city for 18 years, went to the police. Since she speaks English as a
second language, Ramirez had difficulty making herself understood and
getting police to help her.

It's a problem that some in Long Beach's ethnic communities run into
when dealing with city government.
"Sometimes we don't know who to call," Ramirez said. "I speak English,
but I'm not 100percent. "How am I going to express myself in front of
the police?" she asked.

Stories shared by Ramirez and other non-native English speakers
Tuesday at the Long Beach City Council meeting helped prompt the body
to unanimously vote to direct city staff to draft a Language Access
Policy within 90 days. A large portion - 45.4 percent - of those
living in Long Beach speak a language other than English at home,
according to U.S. Census data.

In the Long Beach Unified School District, nearly a quarter of all
students are learning English as a second language. State statistics
show that for the 2009-2010 school year, 23 percent of students were
classified as English learners, compared with 26 percent in Los
Angeles County.

Long Beach, labeled as the most diverse city in the nation in a USA
Today study of the 65 largest U.S cities, has translation and
interpretation resources for its non-English language residents, but
no organizationwide plan to deliver it. To administer elections, the
City Clerk's Office provides voting information in English, Spanish,
Khmer, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Korean.

Multilingual TV simulcasts of major meetings were cut two years ago, a
victim of budget reductions, but City Clerk Larry Herrera made a
decision to set aside $24,000 in his department's budget for
interpretation by request. The service can cost about $2,000 per

"We thought at least offering it on request, although a step
backwards, would still provide a service to those people who attended
council," Herrera said.

For day-to-day operations, the city maintains a database of
approximately 3,000 employees with linguistic skills, out of a total
of about 6,000.

"Every department has staff or access to staff that speak an
alternative language," said Tom Modica, Long Beach's director of
government affairs and strategic initiatives.

Many city forms and services are also available in multiple languages,
Modica said, while neighborhood resource centers have staff and
equipment that help with on-site translation.

Susanne Browne of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles will work
with city staff to develop the Language Access Policy along with other
community partners, including the Long Beach Immigrant Rights
Coalition, Housing Long Beach, Centro CHA and United Cambodian

Browne envisions Long Beach adopting an addition to the municipal code
similar to Oakland, which passed a first- in-the-nation
equal-access-to- services ordinance in 2001.

Among other mandates, the Oakland law states clearly which city
documents are translated into other languages, directs departments to
maintain multilingual telephonic messages, outlines the translation of
public meetings and hearings, and provides for the hiring of bilingual
employees in public contact positions.

"What I would be disappointed in is if the city comes back with a
couple of minor, small recommendations," said Browne. "I think what we
really need to do is adopt a comprehensive, consistent policy."

Browne added that the talks will be respectful of the city's budget.
City leaders had to eliminate a $20.3 million deficit for 2012.

Officials say enacting a language policy would likely involve a
reorienting of existing resources rather than significant

Councilman Dee Andrews, who introduced the policy item along with
Councilman Steve Neal, said the costs are negligible, considering the

"Which one is more important? The money or people's lives?" he asked.

"I don't think you'd have to weigh those two. I think it would just be

eric.bradley at presstelegram.com, 562-499-1254


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