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Language Issue Spreads to Alhambra

November 21, 1985|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

Even as organizers of a Monterey Park movement to declare English the city's official language are dealing with a setback that could scuttle their efforts, a group in Alhambra is beginning a similar campaign in that city.

The Monterey Park city attorney issued an opinion Tuesday that an initiative petition seeking a vote April 8 on the English-language issue is invalid because it was not properly worded. Initiative proponents say they may seek a court order to require the city to submit the issue to voters.

Meanwhile, in Alhambra, Mark Lockman, who heads a taxpayers organization called All We Can Afford, said he and others are circulating thousands of flyers urging residents to attend the Alhambra City Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday to urge adoption of a similar English-language proposal. Lockman, who said his organization has 75 members, said the resolution he will submit to the council says: "The city of Alhambra hereby resolves that English is the official language of the city of Alhambra."

On Valley Boulevard

Lockman said the proposal is a response to the "growing use of foreign languages in signs and public places." He cited in particular the number of signs in Chinese on Valley Boulevard businesses that cater to the growing Asian population.

The flyer prepared by Lockman says, "Don't allow Alhambra to turn into another Monterey Park. In America we speak English. . . . If you are beginning to feel alienated in your own community, you are not alone."

However, in contrast to the stormy debate in Monterey Park over the English-language proposal, Alhambra council members had little to say. Councilman Talmage V. Burke said that he would not comment until he heard the proposal presented in full. Councilman J. Parker Williams said he is unaware of any widespread sentiment in Alhambra for declaring English the official language, and Councilman Michael Messina said, "I don't have any real feelings about it." Two other council members could not be reached.

Lockman said that if the Alhambra council fails to act on the English-language resolution, he intends to follow the course taken in Monterey Park and circulate initiative petitions to qualify the issue for the next Alhambra municipal election, in November, 1986.

In Monterey Park, initiative proponents say a declaration of English as the official language would improve communication among racial and ethnic groups, while opponents contend that the measure would encourage racism.

Initiative petitions signed by more than 3,300 people asking for Monterey Park to establish English as the official language were submitted to the city clerk last week. But City Atty. Richard Morillo said the initiative does not qualify for the April 8 election ballot because it lacks the proper wording of an ordinance.

The initiative petition says: "English is the official language that we use in Monterey Park when we want everyone to understand our ideas. This is what unites us as Americans, even though some of our citizens speak other languages. Let us make English our official language as a symbol of this unity."

Text Not Included

Morillo said the petition language lists reasons for adopting an English language ordinance, but neglects to include the text of an ordinance. Therefore, he said, there is nothing for the city to submit to voters.

Frank J. Arcuri, a leader of the initiative campaign, said he may seek court action to put the measure on the ballot. Arcuri said his attorney has informed him that despite any technical defect in the language of the petition, a judge could order the measure placed on the ballot because the proposed initiative's intent is clear, calling simply for a declaration that English is the official language.

Arcuri said that if Morillo cannot be persuaded to change his opinion or if a court order cannot be obtained to get the measure on the ballot, his other options include circulating new petitions or concentrating on the election of new council members next April.

City Clerk Pauline Lemire said that although the deadline for putting measures on the April ballot is Jan. 9, there are so many legal and practical obstacles in circulating petitions that it is unlikely that the deadline could be met if the petitions were recirculated.

Probably Will Run

Arcuri, who has said he probably will run for City Council, said one of his goals has been to replace the three incumbents, Mayor Rudy Peralta and council members David Almada and Lily Lee Chen, who will be up for reelection in April. A new council, he said, could then adopt the English-language ordinance.

The English-language issue also could reach voters through a rival measure that the council, on a 4-1 vote last week, instructed the city attorney to prepare for the April 8 ballot at the request of the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park. The coalition's measure denounces the English-language proposal as a threat to constitutional rights.

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