Rosemead City Council Studies Ban on Foreign-Language Signs

This city is considering joining a handful of municipalities in the state regulating the use of foreign language on commercial signs.

Some city councilmen say the increase in foreign language, particularly Asian tongues, on commercial signs in town poses a potential problem for English-speaking police and firefighters responding to emergencies. The City Council is reviewing several ways to get businesses to identify themselves in English on their signs, including three ordinances designating various ratios of English to foreign language to be used on commercial signs.

But there were signs of political trouble last week at City Hall when several members of Rosemead's sizable Latino community complained that the proposed ordinances were offensive to them and would violate their constitutional right to freedom of speech. The council referred the matter to a Chamber of Commerce committee, which is trying to establish voluntary language guidelines for signs.

Last year, neighboring Temple City adopted an ordinance requiring business signs in most of its downtown commercial district to carry only English letters and Arabic numerals. And Gardena requires business names and addresses in English on at least one sign clearly visible from the street, but does not otherwise restrict foreign language on signs.

But officials in Alhambra, Monterey Park and other San Gabriel Valley cities where the Asian and Latino populations are growing rapidly, have so far steered clear of language restrictions on signs because of legal questions and concern over racial sensibilities. "It rubbed people the wrong way," said Lloyd de Llamas, city manager of Monterey Park, which considered and then dropped a sign language rule. More than one-third of the city's residents are of Asian origin and another one-third are Latino, according to 1980 Census figures.

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