Translation at LA City Council committee meetings still lacking, members say – Daily News

By ERIC HE | City News Service

A majority of Los Angeles residents speak a language other than English at home, yet translation services are not automatically made available at the City Council’s committee meetings.

City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez is leading a renewed effort to change that, introducing a motion earlier this month seeking reports on the “feasibility of providing translation services for every committee meeting and City Council meeting to begin as soon as possible with the 2023 City Council calendar year.”

Currently, only live Spanish interpretation is offered, and only at City Council meetings. For translation services to be provided at committee meetings, members of the public need to contact the legislative assistant assigned to the committee at least 72 hours in advance, according to the city clerk’s website.

Los Angeles city council member Monica Rodriguez, right, and new LA city council member Katy Young Yarozlavsky at a press conference at Los Angeles City Hall Monday, December 12, 2022. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“Why is that their burden?” Rodriguez said in an interview with City News Service on Thursday. “It’s their government. So the idea that we would put the burden on them to make that advance request, I think it’s ridiculous.”

Nearly 60% of Los Angeles residents sometimes or always speak a language other than English at home, according to the latest census. The American Community Survey estimated in 2019 that over one-third of households in Los Angeles speak Spanish at home. Between 2009 and 2013, Los Angeles County had the highest population of people considered Limited English Proficiency in the country.

Even if translation services are provided for committee meetings, only those physically in the meeting room can listen to interpretation for the entire meeting, according to a report by the city clerk’s office. For those following over the phone or on YouTube, translation is only heard for public comment speakers. The rest of the meeting is in English only.

Rodriguez, who has served on the council since 2017 and chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, said translation services are not common at committee meetings and even she wasn’t completely aware of the process to request services.

Earlier this month, during the first meeting of the council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform — created in the aftermath of the City Hall racism scandal — a Spanish-speaking resident from District 14 gave public testimony, but there was no translator available. The committee was discussing potential penalties for censured council members, after Councilman Kevin de León — who represents the district — was censured in October along with two other council members, though only de León remains on the council.

Instead, a city staffer attempted to translate, but did so “poorly,” according to Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who is not on the committee but was listening to the meeting, called in and provided a translation: “What the last caller was requesting was the respect for their district to be treated as other districts have been treated.”

She added that the conversations regarding censureship centered around “districts that represent a predominantly Latino population.” The other censured council members, Nury Martinez and Gil Cedillo, represented the Sixth and First Districts, respectively. Both have left the council. Martinez’s former seat is vacant, while Eunisses Hernandez replaced Cedillo earlier this month.

“I would hope that for future meetings there would automatically be translation provided for those constituencies to be able to be accommodated and prepared for, so that we can receive their comment and the translation accurately provided,” Rodriguez said during the meeting.

The next day, Rodriguez filed her motion.

“It is critically apparent to me that there was a very huge missed opportunity, and the lack of foresight to ensure that these translation services were provided — specifically when the committee was going to be engaged in conversations that would directly impact that district,” Rodriguez said.

A prior motion filed in April sought a report on expanding live Spanish interpreting services to committee meetings. According to a November report by the city clerk’s office, that expansion would cost over $500,000.

With 15 standing committees and 242 regular meetings each year for the city council, the report estimated needing an additional three to four interpreters for committee meetings each week, with an additional interpreter required for meetings that exceed three hours. The average cost of qualified interpreters is between $80 and $100 hour, and it would cost up to $48,400 a year to provide interpretation services for all committee meetings, according to the report.

The city’s contracts with two vendors that provide interpretation services both expire at the end of the year.

Rodriguez’s motion is more broad, seeking a hiring plan and the cost for the positions and any equipment necessary. She said she is looking at providing translation in several other languages, along with Spanish. A representative for Rodriguez said it would likely cost beyond $500,000 to implement the changes requested in her motion, which was referred to the council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

LA City Councilwoman Nithya Raman speaks during Karen Bass' election night party at the W Hotel in Hollywood on Monday, May 23, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
LA City Councilwoman Nithya Raman speaks during Karen Bass’ election night party at the W Hotel in Hollywood on Monday, May 23, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Councilwoman Nithya Raman, interim chair of both the council’s Housing and Homelessness and Poverty committees, said during the governance reform meeting that she has been having difficulty requesting translators for her committee meetings. Raman seconded Rodriguez’s motion.

“I think we have to make this a priority,” Raman said. “It’s not just the discussions here in this committee meeting that are important for people who may be monolingual Spanish speakers, but every single committee meeting is discussing the future of L.A.”

Council President Paul Krekorian, chair of the committee, then requested translation services be made available for future meetings of the Governance Reform Committee after a representative from the city clerk’s office confirmed that no translation request was made for the meeting.

Rodriguez said that poor translation services disincentive non-English speakers from returning to participate in council meetings. She was “incensed” that translation services were not considered in advance of the meeting, “given that the conversations were going to have a very direct impact on this particular district.”

Public comment provides council members with the opportunity to recognize the diversity of opinions from all parts of the city, according to Rodriguez.

“I’d like to hear those voices,” Rodriguez said. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t afforded in this particular situation.”


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