Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley on Tuesday proposed a pilot program that would provide callers with interpreters of 140 languages in an effort to open city government to an expanding immigrant population.
"The 3.4 million residents of Los Angeles come here from all over the world," Bradley said.
"Our rich cultural and ethnic diversity is one of our greatest strengths, but it requires us to ensure our services can adapt to the wide range of people who reside here. . . . This program will make it possible for people to talk to us no matter what their language," the mayor said.
Under Bradley's proposal, five city departments--Fire, Police, Library, Airports and Community Development--would contribute $10,000 each for a six- to nine-month pilot program to tie into AT&T;'s Language Line.
AT&T; employs an undisclosed number of interpreters in 140 languages and dialects on a 24-hour basis. When a city department receives a call from a non-English-speaking resident, the call would be tied into the AT&T; Language Line for a three-way conversation with an interpreter.
The service, founded in 1984 and bought by AT&T; last year, is already used by scores of cities in all 50 states, said Jeffrey J. Munks, director of marketing and sales.
"Even though our city boasts a multilingual work force," Bradley said, "there is no way each department has the capability to translate as many as 140 different languages and dialects."
Most cities--such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Anchorage--use the interpreter service primarily for their 911 emergency phone lines.
Under Bradley's plan, non-English-speaking residents would be able to get access to the widest range of departments of any of the cities now using the service. City officials said the service costs $1.94 per minute, but were unable to estimate the total annual cost.
Councilman Michael Woo agreed to carry the proposal in the City Council and on Tuesday he introduced a motion urging adoption of the plan. He said the program is a "recognition of the realities" of life in Los Angeles. Bradley said that it would take several months to get council approval for the program.