EDITORIAL: Bad odor down in Irwindale and it's more than Sriracha

Loss of hot-sauce maker would be blow to the state.

FresnoApril 18, 2014 

The Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale -- the maker of Sriracha hot sauce -- is under fire for allegedly fouling the air around its Southern California production site. The company says it may take its business elsewhere.

NICK UT — AP

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 Co. 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.

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