OAKLAND — To loud applause, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday that would require city departments that deal with the public to provide translators and translated materials in languages other than English.
"It's the right thing to do," said council President Ignacio De La Fuente. "We are fulfilling our responsibility to provide equal access."
"For people like us in the lower income levels, this is happy news," said resident Dong Hua Chen, speaking through a translator. Chen described trying to call the Oakland Housing Authority but being unable to get help because there was no bilingual staff.
The ordinance, which will be finalized May 8, is believed to be the first of its kind in California and perhaps the nation. San Francisco supervisors may consider a similar motion in May.
"The city has an obligation to provide the basic city services such as police and fire to everybody who pays taxes. Just because somebody may not be fluent in English yet does not mean they should be excluded," said Councilman Danny Wan, who co-sponsored the measure with De La Fuente.
The ordinance would require departments that provide services to the public to have employees who can speak Spanish or Chinese, the prevalent languages of limited-English speakers in Oakland.