Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese customers of the Southern California Gas Co. will be able to use their native languages to speak with service representatives through a toll-free telephone service to be inaugurated early next year, company officials said Wednesday.
The planned multilanguage service center was among steps to improve the utility's service to Southern California's rapidly growing Asian population announced Wednesday in response to recommendations from an Asian-American community advisory panel. The company had previously sought and responded to advice from panels representing blacks and Latinos.
Rose Ochi, an aide to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and a member of the advisory committee, said the company's decision to seek out the views of an Asian-American panel placed it in "the vanguard" of public utilities in "trying to understand and be responsive to the new emergent communities" of ethnic Asians in Southern California.
In 1980, ethnic Asians numbered 561,922, or 4.7% of the total population in the gas company's seven-county service area, according to U.S. census figures quoted in a survey prepared for the company. Rapid growth has continued in the last five years.
Panel members and company officials expressed hope during a meeting on Wednesday that their work will encourage greater efforts by other utilities in California to reach across language and cultural barriers.
Southern California Gas prepares some informational brochures in Korean and Chinese, as well as in English and Spanish, and it will expand these efforts and include additional languages, company officials said.
In the last two years, the company has begun placing advertisements on such subjects as safety in Asian-language newspapers, advertising manager Don Robertson told the panel.
Julian Jinn Lee, a panel member who is coordinator of Asian-American Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, said use of Asian-language materials constitutes "a very positive contribution" to Asian immigrants that eases their adjustment to American life.
"The bilingual brochures stress safety features," Lee said. "So many people have suffered unnecessary injuries and loss of property because of unfamiliarity with the system."
Some panel members suggested that the company's response to the recommendations still did not place enough emphasis on using the skills of ethnic Asians to improve the company's service.
Specific criticism was aimed at the utility's use of a non-Asian advertising agency and translation service to help prepare advertisements for Asian-language newspapers.
"There are Asian advertising companies and Asian translation companies," said David T. A. Chen, a panel member who is a Monterey Park-based public relations and translations consultant. Ochi also said, "If you want to hire consultants for special projects that involve the Asian community," it is appropriate to turn to Asian-American firms.
Company officials responded that they are still trying to improve their efforts.