San Jose is launching language interpreter services at some public meetings after translation mishaps earlier this year.
Starting today, there will be Spanish and Vietnamese translators in person and virtually at every San Jose City Council and council committee meeting. Prior to this change, people seeking in-person interpreters needed to submit a request ahead of time.
This decision stems from at least one instance at a March council meeting where the lack of a translator prompted city staff to put Spanish speakers in another room to listen to a virtual translation. Councilmembers and community leaders criticized the move, with some likening it to segregation.
In response, Mayor Matt Mahan directed the city clerk to provide in-person interpreter services starting this fiscal year. City data shows 57% of San Jose residents speak a language other than English at home, with Spanish and Vietnamese being the most common.
“The investment to provide Spanish and Vietnamese interpretation at council meetings will open the door to civic engagement to neighbors across our city,” Mahan said in a statement.
Based on initial city estimates, it will cost at least $300,000 per year to provide two translators at every public meeting. That estimate doesn’t include the rental or purchase cost for headphones and other translation equipment needed.
Lucila Ortiz, political director at the advocacy nonprofit Working Partnerships USA, said she’s been pushing for better interpreter access since 2015, so she is elated San Jose has finally taken this step.
“It’s the right of people to be able to look their councilmembers directly in the eye when they are speaking about a certain issue,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “This gives them an opportunity to be present and more engaged. It opens the door to civic engagement for so many people.”
But there are still gaps the city needs to address, Ortiz said, noting agenda packets and memos should be available in different languages. She also hopes city leaders will focus on disability access, like including sign language at meetings, which still need to be requested at least four days ahead of a meeting.
City Clerk Toni Taber said translation is free, and meeting attendees can access services in the back part of the council chambers at City Hall.
“Access to interpretation is part of ensuring that we operate as an equitable and inclusive city,” Taber said in a statement.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.
What meetings will offer translation services?
The San Jose City Council meets most Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. at San Jose City Hall. Meetings are livestreamed on Zoom and YouTube.
Council committees meet once per month:
- The Community and Economic Development Committee meets on the fourth Monday of the month at 1:30 p.m.
- The Neighborhood Services and Education Committee meets on the second Thursday of the month at 1:30 p.m.
- The Public Safety, Finance, and Strategic Support Committee meets on the third Thursday of the month at 1:30 p.m.
- The Transportation and Environment Committee meets on the first Monday of the month at 1:30 p.m.
Click here to access agendas.
Other interpretation services, including American Sign Language, must be requested via email from the city clerk’s office ([email protected]) at least four days before a meeting.