Something stinks in Irwindale. In recent months, officials in the largely industrial San Gabriel Valley city have appeared to be on a crusade to shut down Huy Fong Foods, the company that makes a wildly popular Sriracha sauce, for emitting chili and garlic odors that bother some neighbors. While a city should protect residents from harmful and/or unpleasant fumes, Irwindale's aggressive and unreasonable tactics have threatened to drive a home-grown enterprise out of state and bolstered California's unfortunate reputation as a bad place to do business.
But there may be hope for compromise in the Sriracha showdown. The city has already sued Huy Fong Foods to stop production if the odors continue. This week the City Council was on the verge of designating the factory a public nuisance, but postponed the decision for two weeks to allow more time for a settlement with Chief Executive Officer David Tran. It's about time Irwindale leaders took a less heavy-handed approach, particularly since they lured the company to relocate to the city and to build a $40-million factory, which was completed just last year.
Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who started his company in a small space in L.A's Chinatown, moved to Irwindale after the city offered land in its industrial development project area and a 10-year interest-only loan so he could triple his sauce output. But while Irwindale is mostly industrial — there are fewer than 1,500 residents — Huy Fong Foods is across the street from homes, and some neighbors have complained that spicy odors are making their throats burn, eyes water and noses bleed.
Since October, air quality regulators have received 70 complaints, most of them from four households. Inspectors have made dozens of visits to the factory and nearby homes, yet have not cited the company for any environmental violations. Of course, the odors are a concern to residents even if they don't trigger an environmental violation, and Irwindale officials are right to keep the pressure on Huy Fong Foods. But their tough tactics would be more justifiable if the odors presented a clear health risk or if Tran was ignoring the problem. He's not. He reached out to air-quality regulators for advice early on and intends to have a new air filtration system in place by June 1 that he hopes will cut the odors.
In the meantime, Irwindale's intransigence has prompted officials from a dozen other cities and states to court the company. A Texas lawmaker said he was troubled that Tran's business was burdened by "excessive government interference" and said Huy Fong Foods would be appreciated and supported in his state. California can't afford to let other states poach its entrepreneurs and private investment over local government squabbles that should be resolved in good faith.