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Tuesday, February 7, 2023
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Dallas City Hall keeps failing Spanish speakers

After years of waiting, the beleaguered neighborhood of Floral Farms is finally on a path to have its zoning formally reviewed by the city of Dallas.

That process, called an authorized hearing, actually entails several community meetings. But unfortunately for Floral Farms, a community best known for its efforts to remove a monstrous pile of discarded roofing known as Shingle Mountain, Spanish-speaking residents keep getting overlooked by Dallas City Hall.

The first city meeting with Floral Farms neighbors in the fall had an interpreter and a presentation with Spanish translations. But at the city’s second meeting last week, neither a professional interpreter nor Spanish materials were available, according to D magazine.

While no one needed an interpreter at the first meeting, about a third of attendees at the meeting this month spoke only Spanish, D reported.

About 19% of adults in the Dallas census tract that includes Floral Farms speak Spanish at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That many of these residents attended the second meeting is a good sign that people are engaged in the rezoning process. That turnout is something City Hall should want and plan for.

City spokeswoman Ashley Guevara told us in an email that residents can request accommodations for city meetings. She said no interpreters were requested for the January meeting at Floral Farms but that bilingual staffers were there to help.

However, city staff limited its outreach to people who attended the previous meeting or those who expressed interest after an initial area-wide mail-out last year. Guevara said city staff are reviewing best practices so that future meetings are accessible to all residents.

It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect the city to have professional interpreters at every community gathering. It pays bilingual staff a stipend to translate as a complement to their jobs, and those informal translations are perfectly appropriate in many instances.

But it’s asking a lot of those staffers to provide faithful, verbatim interpretations at community meetings as important as those in an authorized hearing. That’s a legal process to rezone an area, one that can affect people’s property rights and the look and feel of their neighborhood. Dallas officials know the demographics of the city and specific communities. When it comes to formal city proceedings that can have significant repercussions in people’s lives, the city should be proactive about providing accommodations.

The city has stumbled before in this area. For example, after a bilingual city staffer bungled a translation at a City Council forum in 2020, the city provided professional interpreters at another Council forum last year that attracted several Spanish-speaking workers. Dallas also corrected course after failing to offer Spanish translations in the early days of developing an area plan for west Oak Cliff, a heavily Hispanic area.

This is something that the city should have clear and smooth processes for by now.

City officials schedule community meetings days if not weeks or months in advance. Failing to assess the need for translations is a mistake that they can and must prevent.

How to get an interpreter

To request an interpreter for a city of Dallas meeting, contact language access coordinator Adriana Portillo at 945-275-8258.

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