According to American Community Survey, a demographic survey program conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 63,038 Pakistani residents in California as of 2018.
In Lodi, 2,600 residents speak the Pakistani language Urdu, according to Neighborhood Scout, an online data collection service.
Yet, many materials that help the state’s Pakistani residents enjoy the same rights and privileges of other ethnic groups are not printed in Urdu.
One such agency that does not print materials in Urdu is the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
On Wednesday, the Lodi City Council unanimously approved a resolution to request that the DMV begin printing its materials in Urdu — although some members voted reluctantly.
“My concern is a jurisdictional one,” Vice Mayor Mark Chandler said, pulling the item from the meeting’s consent calendar. “I totally respect the Urdu speaking community’s right to address what they seem to perceive as an inadequate participation on behalf of the DMV, but this is something that should be appealed at the state Legislature level, and that would be Assemblyman Jim Cooper or Sen. Susan Eggman. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the council, which has no jurisdiction over this matter, to take a position on it.”
City of Lodi staff placed the resolution on the meeting’s consent calendar at the request of Councilman Shak Khan, who was born in Pakistan and has lived in Lodi since the age of 5.
He said while he understood that asking the DMV to begin printing materials in another language was out of the city’s jurisdiction, the Pakistani community in Lodi has a difficult time navigating the agency’s requirements.
Khan said he simply wanted fellow council members and city staff to show a state agency that it stood with the Pakistani community.
“They’ve been waiting for this minute for years,” he said. “We have a lot of new incoming immigrants that come in. They have a struggle. A learner’s permit and a driver’s license is a first opening to have access to a job. I can present this at the state level, but if I don’t get the support from my own council members and city, I think there won’t be a benefit.”
According to Wednesday’s agenda, the DMV currently prints information in more than 30 languages and dialects, and Lodi’s Pakistani residents endure long wait times to schedule appointments and receive translation services.
State law requires translation services for languages that exceed 5% of a city’s population. Although Lodi’s Pakistani residents do not meet the cap — at 4.3% — Khan said it takes as long as six months for the DMV to provide translation services to those who speak Urdu.
Khan has been in contact with Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua, D-Stockton, and plans to contact Cooper in the near future, he said.
Chandler asked Councilman Mikey Hothi, who is also Cooper’s assembly district director, if there would be any benefit in contacting the assemblyman for his support.
“I would say it would be impactful for a city and the district to take a stance on a resolution,” Hothi said. “Potentially, I could see Assemblyman Cooper looking at that as a future bill idea, or maybe we can lean on the DMV in other ways to get them to include more languages. This has been a thing that’s been ongoing at the Legislature, but (it) doesn’t hurt to have a city that has a large Pakistani or Urdu-speaking population to take a stance.”
Mayor Alan Nakanishi agreed with Chandler, adding he has always believed the council should remain non-partisan and not discuss topics handled at the state or federal level.
“If we do something like this for one group, what about another group? When do you stop? People come in and say, ‘Let’s do this here, lets do this there,’” he said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for the city council to do such things. We’re here to basically run the city, not be advocates for certain members of the city.”
Khan said he was heartbroken and surprised to hear the mayor’s comments, and said every group in Lodi has the right to address issues affecting them.
“I think the reason I got elected was to make sure the people’s voices were heard in City Hall,” he said. “I’m not here to be a policeman and run the city. The city manager is doing his job, and it’s his job to run the city. We’re here to be the voice of the citizens and make sure their voice is heard and advocate for their rights and things they want the city to get done.”
Nakanishi’s comments also drew ire from some residents, who agreed with Khan that every community should be allowed to have DMV materials in their native language.
“Every group or population in Lodi deserves representation,” Laurie Lanning said. “They should be able to walk into the DMV, pick up a pamphlet that is in their language so they can understand what they need to do. So I disagree with our mayor. I’d like to see this moved up. I just can’t believe what I’m hearing from our mayor.”
David Diskin said he was surprised at the mayor’s comments, and said it was odd the council suddenly did not want to send feedback and ideas to legislators in Sacramento.
“I have to imagine there have been times in the past where this council has unified its idea and sent something up to the State of California, whether it’s budgets, DMV, sanctuary cities or anything else,” he said. “The idea we have to be apolitical about something as simple as just giving a request to DMV to provide something in another language because we don’t want to get involved? That just seems kind of weird.”
Councilman Doug Kuehne initially proposed tabling the resolution to get more information before approving it. But after hearing comments from Khan and Hothi, he reversed course and voted against tabling the proposal.
Tabling the item failed by 2-3 vote, and the council ultimately voted to support the resolution 5-0.
Nakanishi said he voted in favor because the majority of the council was approving the item.
“(It’s a) small segment of our city, and we have an opportunity to represent that small segment of our city,” Kuehne said. “Our city has been under fire last year and the beginning of this year for not being inclusive. Here’s an opportunity for us to be inclusive, and I totally support Councilmember Khan in this effort to be more of an inclusive city.”