The Floral Farms community in southern Dallas is finally seeing movement in its yearslong quest to get the city to examine the industrial zoning that allowed Shingle Mountain to cast its shadow on adjacent homes. But at the city’s community meeting about that effort Tuesday night, a lot of it was lost in translation. The city did not provide materials in Spanish, nor did City Hall send a translator.
The meeting was the second in what will be a series. Dallas’ planning and urban design department is leading the community through a rezoning process called an authorized hearing. This process could culminate in new zoning for the area that would keep industrial operators away from homes and businesses. These meetings are set aside for the city to hear from the people who live and work in the community and learn what they would like to see.
Many of those folks would like to see less industrial zoning near their homes, and the city would like to see a better mix of uses for the land. It sits in a floodplain and is currently zoned for a mix of industrial, commercial, and agricultural uses.
On Tuesday, staff quickly provided an update before moving attendees into a workshopping exercise to get their thoughts on the current zoning.
The only problem? Roughly one-third of those in attendance only spoke Spanish. They were forced to contend with a presentation and printed materials that were entirely in English. Staff had to be reminded that there were Spanish speakers in the room at least twice.
Evelyn Mayo, who works with the community and is the urban research fellow at nearby Paul Quinn College, also attended the meeting and said she was disturbed by the lack of Spanish access.
“I was surprised,” she said. “Everything should be made available in English and Spanish, and other languages on request, or based on demographic information.”
According to the last U.S. Census, about 24.1 percent of the residents within Floral Farms’ Census tract only speak Spanish. At the city’s first community meeting, last September, the visual aids were in both English and Spanish. A translator was present. Nobody needed either, but interest in the authorized hearing process has only increased since then.
Mayo said that city staff should have been more prepared since the neighborhoods impacted by any potential zoning changes include many monolingual Spanish speakers.
“We shouldn’t have to ask,” she said. “This is why the coalition of neighborhood associations is advocating for an engagement policy that involves translation standards.”
Mayo said that the Floral Farms neighborhood association will be meeting with neighbors separately to do outreach in Spanish for input they’ll turn over to the planning and urban design staff.
This isn’t the first time that the city has been caught flat-footed when it comes to needing translation. Community members attending meetings about the West Oak Cliff Area Plan also complained that translation services were absent, despite a majority of the residents being Latino. When the city was ready to unveil its proposed Racial Equity Plan, the Spanish version was not provided until two days before the City Council was set to vote on it. One of the goals of the plan declared that the city would ensure that at least 95 percent of its public-facing products would be offered in Spanish, too.
Tuesday night, longtime Floral Farms resident Marsha Jackson shook her head as she watched her Spanish-speaking neighbors puzzle over the materials and wait their turn to talk to one of two city staffers pressed into service to translate. “They deserve to have their voices heard, too,” she said. “This is important.” (Jackson lived next door to Shingle Mountain, the thing that led to the rezoning discussion.)
A city spokesperson told us Wednesday morning that they will proactively offer materials in both English and Spanish at the next meeting and would send a translator. They’ll also add a Spanish version of this week’s presentation to the webpage dedicated to the Floral Farms authorized hearing process.
Hopefully, Jackson’s neighbors come back.