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Irwindale to hold public hearing on Sriracha odor complaints

Huy Fong Foods founder and president David Tran with mixing machines at Irwindale Sriracha chili sauce plant.
Huy Fong Foods founder and president David Tran with mixing machines at Irwindale Sriracha chili sauce plant.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

Irwindale city officials are asking the public to sound off Wednesday night on chili pepper odors allegedly coming from the newly-opened Sriracha factory in the city, part of the city campaign to quell the smells or shut down the plant.

In a parallel action, Irwindale has a separate public nuisance lawsuit pending in Superior Court seeking an order for the plant to end the smells or be shut down.

Hot sauce manufacturer Huy Fong Foods countered with its own call to the public to stand up for  Sriracha at the hearing, which is at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at Irwindale City Council Chambers, 5050 N. Irwindale Ave. In a statement, the company, despite having annual sales in the tens of millions of dollars, portrays itself as David fighting alleged strong-arm tactics of a Goliath city hall.

"It enjoys some international notoriety, but at the end of the day, this is a small, family-owned business with one factory and it is dealing with the police powers of the city of Irwindale, as well as pending litigation," said John Tate, attorney for Huy Fong Foods. He called the legal proceedings premature and unnecessary.

Huy Fong Foods moved its chili-garlic hot sauce bottling operation from Rosemead to a new 600,000-square-foot plant on Azusa Canyon Road in Irwindale beginning in 2012 in a $15 million city-financed economic development deal. The company has since repaid the city loan, owner David Tran said.

Complaints about odors first registered with the city and South Coast Air Quality District in 2012 during the company's late summer bout of crushing the fresh jalopeno chilies into a paste that is stored in barrels and used as a base for the sauce. The company installed filters on the massive plant's ceiling vents for the 2013 chili-crushing season, but complaints still surfaced from a neighborhood of homes within a mile southeast of the plant. In October, the city sued the company over the smells.

Huy Fong Foods attorney John Tate said a newspaper provided data it obtained  from the air quality district that few households had complained. Four households generated 41 of the 61 complaints. The remaining smell reports came from four other homes that complained twice, and a dozen homes that complained once.

SCAQMD spokesman Sam Atwood has said in the past that most of the complaints came from a small number of homes, but had declined to provide specific data, citing the confidentiality of the identities of complainers.