Foreign language store signs in Queens and across the city may soon include English translations, if two new bills being introduced by Councilmen Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) become law.
The first bill, introduced last week, would give the Department of Consumer Affairs the task of implementing the previously unenforced state law that prohibits foreign language signs.
“None of the agencies in the city have been sure who should be enforcing it,” Halloran said. “Under current state law, there is no jurisdiction for enforcement.” He said that the new law would fix this problem.
The second bill, which the councilmen said they will introduce next week, would allow foreign language signs, but would require them to be at least 60 percent in English, while 40 percent can be in another language. Store owners would be given four years to comply with the new legislation.
The councilmen explained that the issue is a matter of public safety.
“Our bill protects small business owners and their customers,” Koo said at a press conference Tuesday in Flushing.
He explained that police and ambulance drivers need to be able to quickly locate an address or building, a feat that can be difficult when signs and addresses aren’t in English.
Halloran maintained that the main information that would have to be translated into English under the law would be public safety information, like addresses, phone numbers and store names.
“We want your ethnic signage,” Halloran said, “We also want to expand the reach of these small businesses.” Having signs in English, he says, would open up the shops to a larger audience.
Complaints of foreign language signs have been raised by area activists like Mary Ann Boroz, who claimed they don’t feel welcome in their own neighborhoods.
In an email, Boroz called the measures, “A step in the right direction, but I would like it tightened up.” She thinks the four-year grace period is too long.
“I hope the bills will go to public hearings and the city will see the wrath of the people,” she added.
There haven’t been many complaints over the proposed bills from business owners, and the Flushing Chinese Business Association has been supportive, Halloran reported. But one group, the Union Street Business Association, has expressed its dislike of the proposal.
“They are not dialoguing with a counter-offer,” Halloran said of the group.
Ikhwan Rim, head of the Union Street Business Association, didn’t return phone calls from the Queens Chronicle.
Liz Rhoades contributed to this article.