Faced with long public comments sessions, with many of the speakers not able to speak English, should the City of Westminster set up a new policy governing the use of interpreters?
Not yet, the council decided. At Wednesday’s meeting, the Westminster City Council voted 5-0 to keep the status quo but asked City Clerk Christine Cordon to come back to the council in four months with her idea of a proper policy on the subject.
In the politically heated atmosphere of recent council meetings in which the council majority and the minority – and their supporters – battled verbally, meetings that lasted sometimes until 1 a.m. and questions arose about use and cost of translators.
Under state law, people not able to speak English are allowed twice the normal amount of time – in Westminster it’s five minutes – if an interpreter in needed. In Westminster, roughly half the voting age population is Vietnamese.
Cordon raised the issue of preference vs. ability. Some people who speak English nevertheless preferred to speak in their native language, she noted.
“Our staff is asking for direction,” she said, noting that the city has already spent $6000 on professional translators. They are paid $175 an hour for a minimum two-hour stint. Additionally, in the case of a public hearing, they are asked to stay for the length of it.
Councilmember Sergio Contreras was happy with the existing practice. “We can’t give people a pop quiz on whether they are fluent in English,” he said. He was supported by Councilmember Kimberly Ho and City Manager Eddie Manfro.
“I think what we’re doing is above and beyond what the Brown Act requires, but maybe what we’re doing is what the community wants,” said Manfro.
Also Wednesday night, the council voted 5-0 to appropriate $565,350 to renovate the city’s Boys and Girls Club facility. Improvements will include painting, replacement of carpet, new lighting and the relocation and conversion of staff offices to accommodate a music studio, music rooms and an e-sport arena.