MONTEREY PARK — With compromise being urged from almost every quarter, the City Council has ended a months-long controversy by unanimously requiring the use of slightly more English on business signs.
The new ordinance mandates that every business sign must include an explanation in English of the name or the nature of the establishment. In some cases, city officials could require both the name and type of business to be included in English on signs. With these restrictions, foreign languages can still be used on any sign.
The previous ordinance, enacted in 1986, allowed a business to post a sign in a foreign language as long as it included an English-language description of the firm's general activity, such as pharmacy, bakery or law office. If the firm used several signs, at least one sign would have to state the nature of the business in English.
Although some council members were talking last fall about requiring three-quarters of any business sign to be in English, that idea never made it through a lengthy review process by city officials, the council, the Design Review Board and the Planning Commission.
In taking its vote Monday, the council considered recommendations from both the design board and the commission. The new ordinance included suggestions made by both agencies, which had concluded last fall that no stricter measures were needed.
During the 2 1/2-hour discussion Monday, the consensus of council members and those who addressed the council was embodied in a comment by resident Bob McCloskey who said: "I'd like to see this issue put to rest, once and for all."
As council members discussed the English-language issue among themselves, a compromise emerged with Councilman Christopher F. Houseman and Councilwomen Betty Couch and Judy Chu making suggestions.
Houseman, Couch and Chu suggested using either the English language or simply letters of the English alphabet on signs. To illustrate what would happen if only the English language could be used, Houseman cited El Pollo Loco, the fast-food chicken restaurant. Throughout the world, he said, the business is known as El Pollo Loco, "but in Monterey Park it would be the Crazy Chicken."
Likewise, Chu said, why should the Uno Mas restaurant be forced to be translated to One More. Under the proposal as eventually passed, such changes are not necessary because the signs can use either English letters or the English language.
Even Mayor Barry L. Hatch indicated he would vote for a compromise proposal, but not before he forcefully argued that all signs should be in English.
"How are you going to satisfy everybody?" Hatch asked. "If you're going to have Chinese (on signs), then you're going to have to have Korean and French and German and Vietnamese and Cambodian and Spanish and everything else."
The only foreign language that need appear, he said, might be a small sign in a window indicating that, say, Spanish or Chinese is spoken in an establishment. To make his point, Hatch, who speaks Cantonese, which he learned as a Mormon missionary, spoke in Chinese for a moment.
"You talk about racism," Hatch said. "We are alienating people by dividing them with the language they don't understand."
In December, on a 3-2 vote, the council rejected Hatch's request for a study on the possibility of holding a referendum on how much English should be required on a sign.
The use of English, Hatch said, "is the one strand of fiber that holds us together."
Although Chu said she did not entirely agree with the proposal that was passed, she said she would support it because "I really do feel strongly that this issue has to be brought to a close."
When the council's unanimous vote was displayed at 11:27 p.m. on a tally board in the chamber, audience members applauded and Houseman shouted "Hallelujah!"
Before the vote, a dozen speakers addressed the council, voicing a range of viewpoints. On occasion, tempers were short.
Resident Harry Kemmerer suggested that signs in a foreign language, such as Chinese, contribute to Monterey Park's uniqueness and therefore make the city attractive to tourists who can boost the economy. "I see the Asian equivalent of Beverly Hills shopping centers here," said Kemmerer, who as a 23-year resident has witnessed the ethnic transformation of the city. He added that he "never heard of any tourists avoiding San Francisco's famous Chinatown because they couldn't read the signs."
"There's enough English now on signs for health and safety reasons," he said. "Let's stop harassing the Asian business people with unnecessary sign ordinance changes that are designed only to soothe the offended sensibilities of some in the Anglo community."
Hatch interrupted him, saying that Kemmerer was deviating. "I think you might bring up some emotions we're trying to avoid here this evening," Hatch said.
Kemmerer concluded, saying: "Let's work toward a kinder, gentler, All-American city that demonstrates how to live with and enjoy and benefit from our cultural diversity."