Stockton’s English-only zoning documents leave some behind

Phase three of the town’s zoning overhaul to deliver on Envision Stockton 2040, the town’s master plan and vision for the future, involves 2,144 properties, primarily in South Stockton and on the outskirts of the town centre. But methods to reach these owners such as flyers and direct mail are only available in English.

At the April 5 city council meeting, when a resident during a public comment asked for help figuring out what was happening to his business, shocked faces filled the dais.

Councilor Christina Fugazi, who represents one of Stockton’s oldest neighborhoods where she says families have owned and operated businesses for generations, had only one word to describe what she just saw: terrible.

“It hurt my heart earlier that this gentleman did not understand what he received in the mail,” Fugazi said. “He showed up at our meeting asking for the help he should have had all along.”

As America’s most diverse large city, Stockton’s municipal government is responsible for serving residents of all backgrounds and languages. The city’s community development department has spent more than two years on zoning policy changes that affect thousands of Stockton businesses and property owners, but community development director Stephanie Ocasio said the city did not have the ability to send bilingual or multilingual communications to residents.

Yet the city continued to run an extensive outreach campaign – some 30,000 mailers, workshops, social media and email outings, online research tools, public hearings and direct conversations with landlords – but the effectiveness awareness in English only and awareness in general, seems to have failed. Compared to about 6,000 properties affected by the city’s rezoning, only 70 people have participated in public awareness events or workshops in the past two years.

Stockton city spokeswoman Connie Cochran said the city does not have a policy requiring information to be sent in more than one language.

“Our municipal policy is to provide services in the language people need to communicate,” Cochran said. “Specifically to multilingual and what languages, there is nothing that deals with that.”

Council member Kim Warmsley, a longtime Stocktonian who represents much of South Stockton, said she would like to consider updating the town’s policy to better serve its diverse residents, but the town should not no need to rely on policy to know how to communicate with residents. .

“I think it’s about being transparent with our community and being community-centric,” Warmsley said. “I believe there are 51 languages ​​that are spoken here in San Joaquin County. Not making linguistic justice a priority is dishonest. We can talk to them, but they can’t talk to us. This is a huge problem for me.

Zoning can be confusing – all the more reason to be clear in communicating with businesses and landlords who will be affected. City council tabled the April 5 zoning point for 30 days and advised city staff to partner with community organizations that can do translations for non-English speakers.

“We’re not quite there yet, but we’re definitely trying to plan right now…we’re working to strategize on how we approach this going forward,” said Mike McDowell, deputy director of development Stockton community.

Asked about the community partnership for language translation, he said: “We anticipate it may be July before returning to the board.”

McDowell said the city will hold another community workshop on zoning before the changes are sent back to council.

Record reporter Ben Irwin covers Stockton and San Joaquin county government. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @B1rwin. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.