Huy Fong Foods

Huy Fong Foods’ famous Sriracha sauce

Editorial: Chili sauce struggle puts state in hot spot

Published: Friday, Apr. 18, 2014 - 12:00 am

Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and handful of other states are salivating over Sriracha – or rather, the prospect of luring the hot-sauce maker, its hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue to their states.

It’s a tantalizing and not completely far-fetched possibility. Irwindale, a small, industrial Los Angeles-area city, so badly wanted Huy Fong Foods to build its new sauce plant there that it financed the $40 million site. But it immediately became an unfriendly host when the plant opened last year.

Since then, Irwindale city officials, ostensibly moved by complaints by just a few households about the unpleasant smell of millions of hot peppers being processed, started harassing the company. The city sued and got a partial plant shutdown last fall. And then, last week, the Irwindale City Council voted to designate this once-desired business as a nuisance despite the promise by the company to come up with a plan of action by June 1.

That might have been the final “in your eye” to Huy Fong, which has been trying to fix the odor problem since relocating from Rosemead.

If this long-simmering fight boils over, everyone involved – the city of Irwindale, the company, the California growers who supply the chilies to make the sauce, the local and state economy – gets burned.

David Tran, the Vietnamese immigrant who invented the world-famous condiment in Southern California 30 years ago, is justifiably frustrated by the actions of Irwindale officials to the point that he’s seriously considering offers from other cities in California, and other states. A Dallas lawmaker has made a special appeal to Tran to relocate to the Lone Star state.

That just can’t happen. If this apparently backward town persists in driving away a California business icon, it would be a black eye not just for that city, but for the entire state.

To see just how absurd this fight is, consider the location of the plant. Irwindale is not a suburban community. It is a city of quarries, gravel pits, recycling centers, rock-crushing operations and bottling plants like the massive Miller Brewing Company. Huy Fong’s plant is across the street from a giant gravel pit. The entire area has been used so heavily by industry for decades that it is a Superfund cleanup site.

The city barely has a human presence. Fewer than 1,500 people live within its borders, and those who do are in hardscrabble neighborhoods clinging to the edges of pits and plants. Huy Fong is not an incursion into a bedroom community. It is exactly the right place to put a company that bottles hot sauce.

There’s definitely something fishy about this hot-sauce tussle, especially considering it seems to stem from few complaints. The Pasadena Star-News discovered that most of the 61 complaints to the South Coast Air Quality Management District about the plant came from four houses where they said the smells are making them sick. Certainly, their concerns ought to be taken seriously, but shutting down the plant is an extreme solution. This isn’t about radioactive clouds from a nuclear reactor or toxic emissions from chemical refineries; it’s chili peppers.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, who represents Irwindale, has called on city officials to cool down and reason. And the governor’s economic action team is working with local leaders to come up with a compromise, according to a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, or GO-Biz. That’s good. They must not allow Sriracha to end up as one more on a growing list of California’s self-inflicted economic wounds.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board



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