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Monterey Park may require Chinese store signage to display English lettering

July 26, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Chinese or English? Lawmakers in Monterey Park say they want businesses to have bilingual signs. But some merchants in the predominately Asian community aren't happy about it.

The Monterey Park City Council has raised eyebrows, giving initial approval to a proposal requiring businesses to have bilingual signs in a community that's overwhelmingly Chinese-American. Monterey Park is 67 percent Asian.

Under the rule, a sign that includes Mandarin and English is OK. But one that simply shows Chinese characters is a problem. Can businesses in Monterey Park show only Chinese characters out front?

In a preliminary decision the Monterey Park City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to back an ordinance requiring English-like letters.

The city's fire chief and police chief support the ordinance, claiming it will help emergency personnel respond faster and more efficiently because many first-responders simply can't read Mandarin characters.

Is it constitutional to require sign in English? The city attorney says you can't require a sign to be in English, but you can require them to use what's called "Modern Latin" letters: A through Z; and "Hindu Arabic" numbers, 0 through 9.

Many people on the street don't speak English and didn't want to talk on camera, but English speakers interviewed largely agree with the new ordinance.

"I think you're just helping expand your business," said Rosemead resident Joanna Heng. "Because of course you want to bring in more customers, and people can't read your name or know what kind of food you're serving."

"I think it's a good idea. So that people will learn English," said San Gabriel resident Phillip Chang.

The preliminary vote was unanimous. The final vote is expected in City Hall on August 7.

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