Amidst both praise and criticism from language accessibility advocates, Long Beach City Council moved forward Tuesday in adopting a language access policy (LAP) that will cost the City some $524,000 per year in order to provide governnmental access to native Spanish, Khmer and Tagalog speakers who have limited English proficiency.
Many cities in California already have LAPs, the first two–Oakland and San Francisco–implemented theirs in the early 2000s, with Monterey Park following in 2007. Many in Long Beach felt that the time had come to adopt our own broader language policy, despite the fact that the City already spends $900,000 per year in order to broaden access for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) speakers.
“The Cambodian [and other LEP communities are] isolated from the city and the Long Beach Unified School District schools because of language barriers,” said Susana Sngiem of the Cambodian Coalition when speaking with Building Healthy Communities Long Beach. “In order to have engaged citizens and parents, language access policies must be implemented in the City of Long Beach and in LBUSD.”
Her concerns were, to a certain extent, addressed by the drafters of the policy. Specifically, the fact that the initial draft held inherent focus on Spanish alone–of which there are over 62,000 speakers in Long Beach–prompted an update to include Khmer and Tagalog–with over 13,500 speakers each–to court Long Beach’s large Cambodian and Philippine populations.
In an opinion piece written for the Post, community member and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) speaker Martha Beatriz Cota expressed some of the larger concerns with the City’s now-approved LAP.
“Although the City is moving forward [with this] policy,” she wrote, “I was extremely disappointed when I saw the exaggerated cost in comparison to other cities and the layers of red tape on what materials are being deemed to be necessary to be translated.”
However, multilingualism is not cheap: the County of Los Angeles alone spends over $3M a year just to print election ballots in multiple languages.
For most, the move was a step forward, including the many who took part in the 90-minute comment period and those in the audience with “One City, One Voice” placards.
The policy will be handed over to City Manager Pat West’s office to analyze over the next six months to not only address cost issues, but also work on language relations training, addressing children needs, and strengthening to overall policy.
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