California city hopes to spur participation with Spanish translations

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

Anaheim, known for Disneyland, would also like to be known as a place trying to engage voters. (Photo Credit: William Shewbridge)

In a perfect world, citizens in every city would be engaged, involved and participating in their local government. That way, city business would be transparent because citizens would know exactly what decisions are being made and how their money is being spent by their elected leaders. There would be no corruption or scandal in this utopian vision of open government.

But even in an imperfect world, it’s your right to be in the know. For those whose primary language is not English, though, participating and being involved is not easy, especially when it comes to city meetings.

The city of Anaheim hopes to make it easier to communicate with the City Council by providing Spanish translation services at meetings.

“We have a very diverse community. Those who would like to attend council are not fluent in English, they are, predominantly, fluent in Spanish. I think this is appropriate and also the time came, in my opinion, long ago for this to be done,” said Anaheim city councilman Jordan Brandman.

Latinos are 53 percent of the city’s population. And 43.5 percent speak Spanish at home.

Anaheim already provided translators at each council meeting for those who requested 48 hours in advance. Now, the 48 hour request will be eliminated and a city staffer will provide full translation at every meeting.

“We surveyed 26 cities in Orange County. Fourteen cities did not provide services, 10 provided translation services upon request, and two provided full translation at every meeting,” said Linda Andal, Anaheim city clerk.

“Our current practice is consistent with other cities, however, we do understand the diverse community in which we serve. Translation services could provide greater community involvement and this council has expressed their commitment in engaging the community and encouraging public participation.”

By using a city staffer instead of an outside service, the city will shell out $5,000 a year versus $20,000 a year.

Mayor Tom Tait said this was not only cost effective but important for the community.

“We want to be accommodating to all people in our community because of the languages spoken and for everyone to be able to participate in these meetings.”

But Councilwoman Lucille Kring points out Spanish is not the only spoken language in the city, there are more than 60. “I don’t have a problem doing this, I just want to be fair to all the other languages that we serve in the city.”

Andal said the city will provide services with notice no later than 10 a.m. the day preceding the meeting, as there are nine languages spoken by City employees certified in their respective languages.

The full Spanish translation service is a one year pilot program to determine how much it is used, after which city staff will provide the Council with a report and recommendations. 

It’s a giant step toward ensuring that communication between elected officials and constituents is a two-way street, as it always should be. With the growing clout of the Latino voting bloc in California, this only makes sense as a way to engage and inform.


Cheryl Getuiza

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