IRWINDALE (CBSLA.com/AP) — The notorious Sriracha plant will remain in Irwindale as the City Council mulls over a vote to name the hot sauce factory a public nuisance.
Lawmakers were set to ratify the resolution — essentially a formality — Wednesday night but, in a move that shocked a packed City Hall, they tabled it until May 14.
Employees say the delay is just kicking the can, or, rather, the Sriracha bottle, down the road.
The City Council’s proposed resolution, if passed, could push the plant one step closer to shutting its doors and leaving Irwindale. Councilmembers say they’re acting in the interest of neighbors who have complained for years about a noxious smell emanating from the facility.
A potential shutdown hasn’t been easy to swallow for factory employees.
“If they do shut down what does that mean for you and your family?” CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Serene Branson asked Sriracha employee Mary Almodovar.
“Hardship, very hard. Hopefully, we’re still going to be here. Sriracha – we’re the only company here, the only one that makes it. It not only allows for us [to be here], but for the city itself, because we do pay taxes,” said Almodovar, who was protesting outside City Hall hours before the meeting.
David Tran, whose company Huy Fong Foods, Inc., owns Sriracha, was seated in the audience.
“Why do you hate me? Why do you want to suck me down?” Tran said to the councilmembers. “Tell me what I need to correct, what I need to do, then I will do it.”
Irwindale Mayor Manuel Garcia brought his own bottle of Sriracha, placing it in front of him, as an act of good faith to the company.
“I even brought my own personal bottle to show that we want to work with you, we love the chili sauce, we love everything about the company — we’re just asking for minimal things,” Garcia said.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District said earlier this month that its inspectors have taken air samples inside the plant, and believed the information gathered should allow the factory and the city to resolve their differences.
Attorney John Tate, who represents Huy Fong Foods, said the company had been working with the AQMD on its filtration system since the complaints first arose and was committed to finding long-term solutions by June 1.
He called the public nuisance declaration a demonstration of “the city flexing its muscle and thumbing Huy Fong in the eye.”
A call to Irwindale City Attorney Fred Galante was not immediately returned.
Irwindale sued Huy Fong Foods last October, asking a judge to halt production at the company’s factory, saying residents downwind complained that fumes from the grinding of red hot chili peppers was stinging their eyes and giving them headaches and coughing fits.
In November a judge ordered the company to stop producing the annoying odors, but by then the annual pepper-grinding season, which runs from August through October, had ended.
In the meantime, several residents complained that the smell was persisting as Huy Fong Foods workers continued to bottle the popular hot sauce that is a staple in Asian restaurants and homes. Data provided by the AQMD showed the majority of complaints came from four households.
Huy Fong Foods moved to Irwindale two years ago, opening a new $40 million plant in the largely industrial city of 1,400 residents.
The company was founded by Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who began mixing up his distinctive sauce in a bucket at his home in 1980. As business boomed, he opened a plant in Rosemead, moving to Irwindale when his company outgrew that facility.
He said the privately held company took in about $85 million last year, adding it employs about 200 workers during the pepper-grinding season and 60 year-round.
The flaming hot sauce is contained in distinctive green-tipped bottles, each with a drawing of a rooster on the side.
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