SOUTH GATE — The Planning Commission, in a move that it says would help police and firefighters identify businesses during emergencies, has recommended that the City Council require businesses to display English-language signs.
However, a spot check by The Times shows that some business owners here see the move as an unnecessary expense as well as an infringement of their rights. One merchant called the proposal discriminatory.
The commission is proposing that the council amend an existing ordinance that regulates on-premises signs. The measure, which would require identification of the business and address in English, is expected to go before the council Nov. 12 and, if approved, it could become law before the end of the year.
Planning officials said the measure is intended not only to improve public safety, but also to make it easier for customers. The measure would require business owners to either alter their existing signs or erect supplemental signs.
South Gate would be the first city in the Southeast area to impose such an ordinance. At least six other cities in the county--West Covina, Monterey Park, Rosemead, Arcadia, Temple City and Gardena--have either adopted similar laws or are considering doing so.
Businesses affected by the proposed South Gate ordinance may be given a period of time before they would be required to comply with the law, but the grace period would be established by the council, said Valdis V. Pavlovskis, chief planner.
Planning officials said the city has not made a count of how many businesses would be affected by the proposal, but a staff letter to the commission said there has been "a proliferation of business trade name signs written in languages other than English."
Planning Commission Chairman Louis Bremer said that because the city is 60% Latino, the law would be aimed mainly at the Latino-owned businesses.
"There are a lot of businesses coming out that are strictly in Spanish," Bremer said. "We want mainly the name and address in English so police and paramedic units know where they're going, even if there is no one around that is bilingual."
Planning aide Aubrey Fenderson said the ordinance also has a requirement that primarily would affect Asian businesses, requiring them to have signs with Roman lettering. He said there are not many Asian businesses in South Gate, but planners want the Roman-letter requirement included in the amendment "just in case."
The city's proposal drew mixed reactions among business owners along Tweedy Boulevard, the city's commercial district. Few stores along Tweedy have signs only in Spanish and none with only Asian characters could be seen. The ones with Spanish-only signs had pictures illustrating the type of business.
Maria Ochoa, owner of a children's clothing store with the Spanish name of Novedades Danielito, said she thought having a law like that would be, "all right, because we're going to put a sign up in English anyway. I think it's necessary."
Disagrees With Proposal
But another merchant whose sign was written in Spanish disagreed with the city's proposal.
"I don't think it's necessary," said Ricardo Garcia, owner of the Salon Juarez, a bar at Tweedy Boulevard and Pescadero Avenue. "It (the bar) has had the same name for nine years, so they should know what it is," said Garcia, who added that the proposal discriminates against businesses catering to Spanish-speaking clientele.
Garcia said his bar is not known only to Latinos. "We have some American people come in here, three or four times a week, regulars," Garcia said.