SOUTH GATE — A proposal that would have required business signs to be written in English has been at least temporarily sidetracked and could be abandoned altogether.
The City Council has sent the proposed sign ordinance back to the Planning Commission, after city officials backed away from the English-only requirement. However, consideration is still being given to requiring signs to be written in Roman letters.
City Atty. Bruce M. Boogaard told the council that the signs "do not necessarily have to be in English, but must be in Roman letters so that everyone can read them."
"All we care about is that there be an identifiable sign which can be repeated phonetically," he said later.
Planning commissioners who had originally approved the proposed ordinance had said it was necessary so that police and firefighters could discern businesses. But Police Chief Norman Phillips told the council that he did not see a problem with foreign names, since police officers mainly look for an address.
Mayor William De Witt opposed the English-only requirement, saying that his concern was "that the Police Department see the address in an emergency. I'm not against any German, French or Spanish names."
Only one resident spoke about the proposal at the council meeting. "If this law is passed in its present form, it would be an insult to the Spanish-speaking community, who have brought up South Gate's business district," John A. Trujillo said.
Councilman Henry C. Gonzalez, the only Latino on the council, said he knew of only two signs in the city that are written entirely in Spanish, so most of the existing businesses would not be affected.
"If that is the case, why does there have to be a big law?" Trujillo asked.
Gonzalez was the only council member who said he supported the English-language requirement.
"I object to having a sign all in Spanish, and no English whatsoever. It puts up a wall when a business starts publicizing in Spanish only. It tells Anglos and blacks that they're not welcome in the store."
Council member John F. Sheehy disagreed. "I for one am not intimidated when I see a sign in Spanish," he said, but added that he had no objection to the Roman-letter requirement.
Valdis V. Pavlovskis, the city's principal planner, said a staff recommendation on the sign ordinance would go before the Planning Commission on Dec. 3.