Last night our chief planner and I conducted a public hearing as part of the process of drafting a new Comp Plan and updating our community's zoning. This particular hearing was for public comment on the Draft EIS.
To provide some background, the community I work for is very diverse, with a large Latino population - mostly Ecuadorean, with some Guatelmalans and Mexicans as well. The municipality provided a translator for some of the early Comp Plan meetings but stopped providing it after the first draft of the Comp Plan was created, because the Plan is only in English. Since then, all meetings, hearings, and documents have been exclusively in English. At some point, certain elements within the community had complained to the government that if we were to provide information in Spanish, we'd need to do it in every language spoken in the community and therefore should not provide any translation.
Flash forward to last night. A half an hour before the meeting, I'm helping to arrange chairs in the room and get things set up. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a young woman with a little girl standing outside the entrance to the room. As I walk outside the room to grab some more chairs, the woman approaches me and asks in Spanish if this is the hearing for the Comp Plan. We talk for 5 minutes about what will be discussed at the meeting and I answer her questions as best I can (I'm still a little rough on transferring a lot of planning jargon into Spanish).
Suddenly, she asks the question I was dreading: "Sera un traductor?" She wanted to know if we'd be providing a translator. Horribly embarrassed after conversing with her in Spanish about the EIS and Comp Plan, I told her that there would be no translation for this meeting. She looked really disappointed, said that she couldn't understand enough English to make it worthwhile, and she thanked me for my time and left. This morning, it's weighing heavily on my mind.
Since I've been working here over the last year, the lack of a connection between our planning practices and our large Latino community has become more and more apparent. I spoke to the chief planner about it and she said that it's a huge problem for us and that every effort to make inroads with this community has failed. The worst part is that last night may have been a blown opportunity and a real setback for us. I can only imagine what she'll say to her friends, family, and acquaintances about our department.
There's an article on Planetizen about this: http://planetizen.com/node/35091
I had just read the article yesterday afternoon. We're dealing with the very issues the author raises but frankly, we're making very little progress and it bothers the hell out of me. Have any of you had success with this? This is a really important topic that I don't see addressed all that often. It's highly dysfunctional to have a large population within your municipality that is effectively 100% cut off from participating in the community's decision-making processes like this and I want to do something about it. I'm the one Spanish speaker in our office and field any calls that we get in Spanish, but IMO, that's not enough.