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Sriracha odor battle: Irwindale may declare factory a public nuisance

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Irwindale city officials are scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday night to decide whether to declare a Sriracha hot-sauce plant a public nuisance in the wake of complaints of a spicy odor coming from the factory.

The public hearing is the latest move in the city's effort to force sauce maker Huy Fong Foods to address the smell. In November, the city sued the company in Los Angeles Superior Court, winning a temporary, partial shutdown. A judge still must determine whether to issue a permanent injunction. 

Sriracha officials are questioning whether the plant emits a harmful smell and have opened their doors for public tours of the plant as a way to counter the odor allegations. 

PHOTOS: Sriracha factory

About 50 people are expected to protest outside Irwindale City Hall during the hearing, Huy Fong officials say.

Huy Fong officials say that holding the hearing is premature and punitive, but they will fix problems if they are found 

“It seems like they just don’t have the patience and they’re not inclined to wait,” said John Tate, an attorney for Huy Fong.

Irwindale City Attorney Fred Galante said the hearing is just another legal tool the city is using to get the problem fixed.

"We have never asked that the plant be shut down. We have never pursued that." Galante said. "We just want them to repair it. That's all we've ever wanted."

If city officials declare the factory a public nuisance, Huy Fong officials will have a set period of time to comply with the city's demands to fix the smell. If Huy Fong officials don't make the required changes in time, Irwindale's municipal code authorizes the city manager to enter the property and make the changes, with the cost of the changes to be paid by the property owner. 

Though city officials say it is not their intent to shut down the plant, Tate said that could be one of the consequences of Wednesday night's hearing. 

"We believe that the city interprets 'abate' to permit them to prevent further processing if it decides that is the source of the nuisance," Tate said in an email. "This is the same remedy sought in the lawsuit."

Huy Fong officials have begun to appeal to their global fan base for support. The once-secretive company began to offer public tours of the plant this month, and each tour participant was asked to fill out an odor survey. Huy Fong officials say that they've collected more than 100 responses and received no complaints during those tours.

"People think that the chili manufacturing creates a terrible smell," said David Tran, chief executive of Huy Fong. "So I decided to open the doors and let them come see how it is. That is the best answer."

Officials from the more populous city of Baldwin Park, which also borders the plant, told The Times that they have received no complaints about a smell from the factory. 

The South Coast Air Quality Management District said it has received a total of 61 complaints about the Sriracha plant; at least 10 came after the plant stopped grinding chiles in December.

Four households submitted 41 of the 61 complaints, said agency spokesman Sam Atwood. So far, 18 households total have complained about the smell. Atwood says there haven't been enough complaints to trigger a violation.

One of the main sources of complaints has been Irwindale City Councilmember Hector Ortiz's son, according to court records. 

For the last month, company officials have been meeting with city and air quality officials. The company has provided the city with a plan to fix the smell, but the city was "not satisfied," Tate said. 

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Twitter: @frankshyong

frank.shyong@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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