SUPERVISOR CHIU PROPOSES EXPANDING CITY LANGUAGE SERVICES
May GM speaker, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, stressed the importance of making city government business and services accessible to all residents. BY MICHAEL SCHUBERT
On a gorgeous spring day in San Francisco, a few dozen dedicated local translators and interpreters eschewed the outdoor pleasures to come together for NCTA’s May general meeting. Former membership director Paula Dieli and new membership director J. Mónica Pérez welcomed new members. Events director Raffaella Buschiazzo announced our upcoming activities, continuing education director Norma Kaminsky outlined our spring and summer workshop calendar, and president Tuomas Kostiainen talked about ATA-related news and other local events of interest.
ESTEEMED GUEST SPEAKER
NCTA Secretary Stafford Hemmer then took the floor to introduce our featured speaker: David Chiu. Mr. Chiu was elected in November 2008 to represent San Francisco’s District 3, which includes the northeast neighborhoods of North Beach, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, Nob Hill, Union Square, the Financial District and Fisherman’s Wharf. In January 2009, Mr. Chiu was elected President of the Board of Supervisors.
Before joining the Board, Mr. Chiu was a founder and Chief Operating Officer of Grassroots Enterprise, an online communications technology company. Prior to that, he worked as a criminal prosecutor at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and as a civil rights attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. David Chiu grew up in Boston as the eldest child of Taiwanese immigrants, and received his undergraduate degree, law degree and master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University.
A resident of District 3 for over a dozen years, David Chiu has been a hands-on leader in San Francisco as, among other things, board president of the Youth Leadership Institute, board chair of the Chinatown Community Development Center, judge-arbitrator for the Polk Street Community Court, and president of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area. Mr. Chiu also previously chaired California’s 13th Assembly District Democratic Committee.
In his legal career, Mr. Chiu saw both the immense value of language services and the problems caused by their absence. As the first supervisor of Chinese ancestry to represent Chinatown, he has seen firsthand the problems that language barriers create within his own district. A strong mandate for government foreign-language services began emerging during the Civil Rights Movement. The road has been a bumpy one, however, given the expense and the fact that most of their beneficiaries cannot vote. Two examples he cited of the hostility among the electorate to the idea of accommodating California’s large and growing foreign-born population are Proposition 187 in 1994 and Proposition 227 in 1998. Proposition 187 required that all those wishing to access social services, health care, and public education in California prove citizenship or legal immigration status. Passing with nearly 59% of the popular vote, it was eventually found unconstitutional. Proposition 227, passed with a 61% majority, ended bilingual education programs.
San Francisco bucked this statewide trend in 2001 with Chapter 91 of its Administrative Code, known as the “Equal Access to Services Ordinance,” which defines broad language services that the city’s defined “Tier 1 departments” must provide to “limited English speaking persons” of any language community constituting more than 5 percent of the city population.
LANGUAGE ACCESS ORDINANCE
In April, Mr. Chiu introduced Ordinance 090461, which would expand the scope of Chapter 91. Key changes of this “Language Access Ordinance” are: expanding Tier 1 departments to include most city/county departments that interact with the public; requiring all city business meeting minutes to be translated if requested and informing limited English speakers in their native tongue of their right to request language services; requiring Tier 1 departments to work with the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs to include language service protocols in annual compliance plans and report their language service budget and compliance methods.
In response to questions, Mr. Chiu noted that: the city’s 311 information line already refers foreign-language calls to telephone interpreters and this accounts for about 1 percent of calls; he hopes to eventually expand the mandate for language services below the 5 percent threshold, as, currently, only Chinese, Spanish and Russian qualify; interpreters will be provided at city meetings if requested and available—otherwise, a written translation of the minutes will be provided. It is not possible to say to what extent city translation assignments will go to local translators. Mr. Chiu noted that San Francisco currently contracts some $1 billion annually in services, and the vast majority is outsourced out of the Bay Area.Supervisor Chiu’s proposed amendments are at http://tinyurl.com/pm9owo.
The NCTA thanks Mr. Chiu for his informative and interesting presentation. MS