Drive along Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park and you'll see signs of every shape and color written in Chinese characters. It's a testament to the city's large Asian American population. Most also have wording in English – and officials in the San Gabriel Valley city want to make that a requirement.
Monterey Park's City Council – which is comprised mostly of Asian Americans – recently gave initial approval to a measure that would require businesses to have at least one sign in what city leaders refer to as the "modern Latin alphabet." This doesn't necessarily mean English, but words and letters that English speakers would be able to understand.
Mayor Pro-Tem Anthony Wong said the thinking is that it would help police and fire crews pinpoint locations more easily.
"In case there is any accident, or whatever, if the sign is (not) something that they can read, then it is hard for them to locate the premises if they receive a call for an accident or emergency," Wong said. "That's why it would be helpful that the signs should have it in modern Latin alphabet."
Wong says a policy demanding English wouldn't be legal, but that "modern Latin alphabet" passes muster with the city's legal counsel.
Monterey Park is close to 70 percent Asian, according to the 2010 census. Many of those residents are Chinese-Americans, and it makes sense that many businesses in the area would have Chinese signage. But most business signs in Monterey Park already contain some English, so the measure would apply mostly to new ones.
Some business owners object to the idea on principle, saying they should make these decisions, not the city. Others say English is good for the local economy. Sam Chau has a sign business and could wind up making more of them in English.
"Frankly, if they do have this, and then maybe it's not convenient for the owners of the businesses and they spend money for this," Chau said. "On the other hand, it is fair to everybody, and whoever looks at the sign, they know what is going on."
The council will consider moving forward with the rule when it meets in August.
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