Walnut's English-only proposal goes to Justice Department for review

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The Department of Justice is checking out a new proposal from the City of Walnut that would require people who address the City Council to speak in English or bring an interpreter.

The idea came from a resident who attended a City Hall meeting and said she couldn’t understand a couple of speakers who addressed the council in Mandarin.

Last week, the Walnut City Council delayed adopting the disclaimer to council and commission meeting agendas because it’s still seeking approval from the Justice Department. Some city officials are concerned the policy could be seen as a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — as is Laboni Hoq, a litigation director with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.

“Denying a large part of their population the ability to engage in the civic process [...] could be considered a violation of Title 6," she says. But, the lawyer acknowledged, "it’s not an easy analysis."

"They would have to really look in to see what the impact is of this ordinance in the community," Hoq said.

Because the city receives federal funding, it must not discriminate against any part of the population based on race or national origin, including language access.

According to the latest Census, Walnut is more than 60 percent Asian. Currently, Walnut is under orders from the Department of Justice to provide election ballots in numerous languages, including Asian languages, as part of compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

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