With nearly 30 percent of the City of Santa Barbara’s population speaking Spanish in the home, the City Council voted to set aside $10,000 to bump the pay of Spanish-speaking city employees who, during natural disasters, can perform crucial public-information duties. Currently, 91 employees currently receive specialty pay for their language skills. Their skill levels range widely. This program currently costs City Hall $185,000 a year.
The move, however modest, reflects the shifting politics of Santa Barbara’s demographic profile in the time of district elections. Currently, Santa Barbara has a Latina mayor — Cathy Murillo — and two Latino councilmembers — Jason Dominguez and Oscar Gutierrez. The council also instructed staff to devise a menu of options to expand outreach and access to the city’s Spanish-speaking community.
The U.S. Census reports that 24,824 city residents, many of whom are also fluent in English, speak Spanish in their homes. Of those, the Census reports, 11,907 speak English “less well.” City Hall currently provides translators to help Spanish-speaking individuals track what’s happening during council meetings; currently, such services are not offered to assist Spanish speakers who want to address the council directly. Under the new outreach plan, that could change, though speakers would have to provide City Hall 48-hour advance notice. Not under consideration are any plans to translate the council’s weekly agenda packets into Spanish. To do so, it’s estimated, would cost $11,250 a year.