Morn Pho and his wife take turns going with a friend to pay their utility bills because city offices don’t have signs in Khmer, nor any staff that speak their native Cambodian language.
The Long Beach resident was among dozens gathered at City Hall Tuesday morning to release the People’s Budget Proposal, a plan that would prioritize translation services, along with services for youth, housing, immigrants and others who are often ignored, advocates said.
Under the People’s Budget, translation services would get a more than $1 million-boost.
“When you invest with us, the Khmer community, you will give back a great return,” said Pho, who took English classes at Long Beach City College for three years, but wasn’t able to grasp the language in part because he was working two jobs.
The budget proposal was put together by a number of groups, including Sanctuary Long Beach, the Long Beach Language Access Coalition, the Housing Habitability Coalition and the Invest in Youth Campaign.
The mayor and city manager are expected to present their own proposed city budget to the city council later this month.
James Suazo, associate director of Long Beach Forward, said the various community groups came together for the first time this year and decided to present a united front in coalescing priorities.
“Once we invest in communities where the need is, we lift up the whole city,” he said, adding that areas such as North, Central and West Long Beach were given special attention.
Some of the specific proposals include:
- An unspecified amount of funding for youth programs from the city’s general fund and cannabis sales taxes
- The allocation of $250,000 to establish a legal defense fund for residents facing deportation (in March the council passed the Long Beach Values Act which aims to provide $250,000 for a legal defense fund),
- A budget for a “well-resourced and publicly-accessible housing code enforcement.” City officials have previously acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing municipal codes due to staffing issues.
- Funding for multilingual services in Spanish, Khmer and Tagalog; signage and staffing, interpretation needs and the translation of documents and communications.
More than 45 percent of Long Beach residents speak a language other than English at home, advocates said. This includes households that speak Spanish (62,814), Khmer (8,607) and Tagalog (5,181).
While the issue of rent control was not brought up, opponents of the failed ballot initiative crashed the news conference to make sure their message was heard.
About a dozen or so opponents held up signs that read “rent control will destroy Long Beach” and “no rent control” directly in front of the advocates who would then attempt to stand in front of them. The battle of the signs resulted in police presence as people on both sides complained of toes being stepped and signs touching them. No one was cited or arrested.
Councilman Rex Richardson, who represents North Long Beach, said while he hasn’t had a chance to read the proposal, he supports the civic engagement by these community groups as well as their efforts to be active participants in the city’s budget process. Richardson started a budgetary participation process for community members as one of his first acts on council in 2014.
“I applaud the community for taking this important step in the budgetary process,” Richardson said. “I look forward to hearing from the community and evaluating the proposal and adopting a balanced and equitable budget.”