Mirroring a nationwide and global calls for language services, Long Beach resident demands for renewed interpreting services come as COVID-19 exposes major flaws in city member access to information about policy implementation in the city.
After demands from the public, a southern California community will again offer language translation and interpretation for public hearings. Last week, the Long Beach City Clerk’s office announced that the city will make interpretation services available again. Community members taking advantage of interpreting service feeds are required to request them 24 hours in advance.
Up until March, the city was offering services in Spanish, Khmer, and Tagalog. However, a combination of the COVID-19 shutdown and software issues put restraints on the city’s capacity to support these services. Furthermore, budget constraints have kept the city from providing the services on a regular basis.
The city currently uses WebEx to broadcast council meetings. Although WebEx announced earlier this year that it would provide new language interpretation, closed captioning, and transcription services, the Long Beach Council runs its interpreting services through Zoom on separate feeds.
The lack of translation and interpreting services has had negative implications on how the council implemented important citywide policies, including an eviction moratorium, a rental assistance program, and an inclusionary housing policy.
Adding to the confusion during the first few months of the pandemic, the city required members of the public to communicate opinions or concerns through an e-comment portal or email, stopping phone-in services. Phone-in services resumed in June for up to 20 people per item, but a difficult and sometimes high-demand sign-up process has only added to language barriers.
Responding to the call for better access to city council meetings, Mayor Robert Garcia suggested the city set aside $200,000 for language services.