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Bilingual features lack on Calistoga City site

For decades, various Calistoga city councils have asked the same question: How can we better involve our Spanish-speaking residents in the community’s civic issues? Yet, little has changed.

Photo by John Schnobrich / Unsplash

For decades, various Calistoga city councils have asked the same question: How can we better involve our Spanish-speaking residents in the community’s civic issues? Yet, little has changed.

Current City Councilwoman Lisa Gift thinks one solution might be communication. Adding a Spanish-language website and public meeting translation services would make an impact, the councilwoman believes. It is a bell she has been ringing for the three years she’s been on the council, mostly to no avail.

“Hispanic participation is paramount to where we go as a city, and if they can’t understand the language, then how are they supposed to participate, and how are we supposed to represent them?” said Gift.

Spanish is the second most spoken language in California and fourth in the world. In Napa County, approximately 31 percent of the population speaks Spanish at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Calistoga City Council meetings do not offer translation services for Spanish speakers, and the city relies on a generic and mostly insufficient “Google Translate” option on its official website to provide critical information to Spanish speakers. When one visits the official Calistoga city website, the “Español” function is essentially unfunctional. At best, some pages are translated by Google Translate software, which, according to research, can fail to understand context and cultural relevance in word choice.

On the city website, the link to “Vivienda” (Spanish for home) displayed the message: “Under construction.” It is unclear how long the site’s housing resources have been unavailable.

In another instance, searching for a “guide of activities” on the city website directs users to visit the UpValley Family Centers website for a “translation.”

“I really started to dig deep and realized the lack of inclusion was evident on our city website,” Gift said. “It has Google Translate, which doesn’t fully translate properly, and not all of our pages even translate.”

Earlier this year, the Napa County District Attorney’s office launched one of the state’s only Spanish language websites for a DA’s office, stating in a press release, “The ‘Google Translation’ of the English website is insufficient.”

According to Gift, Calistoga as a city is not doing enough to be inclusive of all community members. She has sent about six emails since 2022 related to implementing a bilingual website. Bilingual outreach has been an issue she has not let go of nor will, she said. “This was kind of pushed off to the side many times when creating agenda items.”

Calistoga Fire Chief Jed Matcham, who also serves as the city’s public information officer, said in a phone interview, “The city has discussed website updates in recent meetings, and we are all very well aware of the translation issues.” He added, “We want to find a way to improve, but as with everything else, it takes time, it takes personnel, it takes money, so there are challenges in place.”

Irais Lopez-Ortega, Calistoga’s vice mayor and a native Spanish speaker who was appointed to City Council in 2013, said, “My understanding is that city staff is working on the issue. I don’t have any updates at this moment.”

According to Gift, during the budgeting process in Spring of 2022, money was allocated for several technical improvements needed by the city. “I continued to bring up the need for a new and fully bilingual website as I felt it was not being addressed,” she said. “I was told by our current city manager that the website would be budgeted from the money set aside for technical improvements. Within the last month, I have been told we have received a quote for a new website. However, it will be an additional cost for the website to be bilingual as well.”

The city, according to Matcham, has “not even moved to the point where we have been able to identify exactly how to do it and who’s going to do it.” Gift said bilingual inclusion on the city website is only a starting point. Council meetings also need to be available in Spanish, she added, noting that the technology exists to implement such a change. “I know other counties and school districts who have invested in live earpiece and headset translation,” Gift said.

She found a local company specializing in translation services and plans to pass along all relevant information to Calistoga city staff and City Manager Laura Snideman in hopes of moving the process forward.

However, when a website to disseminate critical information to Spanish speakers and readers will be up and running is still anyone’s guess.