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China Daily Website

US city store sign rule sparks debate

Updated: 2013-08-10 00:42
By Chen Jia ( China Daily)

A city in Southern California with a large Chinese community is grappling with what to do over a move to require storefronts to display at least some "modern Latin alphabet".

The city council of Monterey Park, east of downtown Los Angeles, voted this week to table action on the code amendment.

If the amendment is approved, it would reinstate an old code requiring English letters or language on storefront signage that was removed earlier this year because the city government feared it could be unconstitutional.

Located in Los Angeles County, Monterey Park is nearly 70 percent Asian, according to the 2010 United States Census. City residents, many of whom said they are confused and upset about the amendment, say business owners should be free to choose what language to use on signs.

On Thursday morning, a clerk at Monterey Park City Hall said, "The final decision will be postponed to Oct 2 because the city council needs to get more information."

City Council member Mitch Ing said the code amendment has been misunderstood as an English-only sign ordinance. He also said he has received numerous e-mails from civil rights groups threatening lawsuits.

According to the council agenda, the amendment will not only promote the city's economic development but help police and fire departments in the case of an emergency because "clear and simple signs are significant to (their) response times".

But the old code has a history of sparking racial conflict. In the 1980s, the English-only sign law created tension between residents and new Asian immigrants.

"It's because no other ethnic groups are told to do so. It's strictly aimed at Asians. You see Spanish writing on (public) buses. But now, they target Asian businesses to make it more ‘white friendly'," said a resident named Doug.

According to an online poll of 513 residents, 60 percent said they supported the rule and that a "business should be as accessible as possible". Six percent said they weren't sure while 34 percent said "the city should stay out of their business".

Arnab Chakraborty, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois, said it is widely accepted that places like Chinatown have unique identities.

The "sense of place" they provide is a highly desirable part of the urban fabric and should be preserved and promoted, especially in a place as diverse as Los Angeles County, he added.

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