How Jerry Brown saved Sriracha for California


A banner hangs inside a delivery entrance gate at the Huy Fong Foods Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce factory in Irwindale, Calif., this month. Huy Fong Foods has been at legal odds with the Irwindale City Council and residents of nearby houses over ill effects allegedly caused by strong pepper odors during the plant’s fall crushing season. (David McNew/Getty Images)

A spat between the makers of an iconic brand of hot sauce and a small California city that complained of burning sensations has been resolved, after high-ranking officials in Gov. Jerry Brown’s Cabinet intervened.

The dispute began last year, when negotiations between Irwindale, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, and Huy Fong Foods, maker of Sriracha hot sauce, broke down. The city wanted the company to do something about the odors emanating from its plant; nearby residents had complained about burning eyes and irritated throats after Sriracha-smelling clouds wafted over their community.

When talks broke down, the city filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order Huy Fong Foods to stop production of the rooster sauce until the company found a way to mitigate the odor. The city council even considered passing a resolution declaring the factory a public nuisance.

In response, Huy Fong and its founder, David Tran, began courting other suitors — and those suitors came from Texas. Earlier this month, state Rep. Jason Villalba (R) headed a bipartisan delegation to Irwindale, where he tried to talk Tran into moving his plant to the Dallas area. Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) sent representatives to woo Tran. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) issued a provocative tweet.

Afraid of losing a few hundred jobs and the world’s best hot sauce, Los Angeles officials urged Brown’s office to take action. The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. began reaching out early this year to try to get the two sides talking, an adviser with knowledge of the meetings said.

Brown’s economic development team got the South Coast Air Quality Management District to evaluate Irwindale’s air — they found no significant odorous problems — and arranged for the mayor of Irwindale, Mark Breceda, and a city council member to visit the factory and begin making peace.

Leslie McBride, deputy director of business investment services in the economic development office, represented the Brown administration during the walk-through on Tuesday. Huy Fong showed city officials their new filtration system upgrades, which should help mitigate future air quality problems.

Brown was briefed several times on the progress of negotiations, the adviser said, though the governor’s office didn’t offer any specific incentives.

After the meetings, Breceda said he would drop the lawsuit. On Wednesday, the city council voted to kill the resolution labeling Huy Fong a public nuisance. Huy Fong said it would keep its Irwindale factory open and pumping out rooster sauce.

Kish Rajan, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development — GO-Biz — said in a statement his office was “glad to take part in positive conversations among city officials and Mr. Tran that ultimately we expect will balance the public interest and keep the Sriracha plant in California.”

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson | May 30