Judge refuses to halt Sriracha hot sauce production in Irwindale after aroma complaints

LOS ANGELES - A Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused Thursday to halt operations at an Irwindale chili sauce plant because neighbors don't like the sting in the fall air when the peppers are mashed.

"You're asking for a very radical order on 24-hour notice," Judge Robert O'Brien told attorney June Ailin, representing Irwindale.

The city sued Sriracha sauce-maker Huy Fong Foods Inc. Monday, claiming it is a public nuisance, and O'Brien scheduled a Nov. 22 hearing on whether to issue a preliminary injunction.

After the hearing, Ailin said she was disappointed but not surprised, because of the general difficulty in getting temporary restraining orders. She said she was hopeful a filtering the system the company claims to have installed will lessen the odor that some neighbors say degrades their quality of life.

The chilis are mashed in the fall during a two-month period, according to the Rosemead-based company, which was founded by Vietnamese immigrant David Tran in Chinatown in 1980. In 2010, it opened a plant on a 23-acre site in Irwindale.

The controversy has even prompted a Texas politician to invite the company to move there. 

In court Thursday, Ailin told O'Brien that not everyone was negatively affected by the aroma.

"Sometimes it's there and sometimes it's not," she said, adding that the challenge for the company is to become "better corporate citizens."

Attorney John Tate, on behalf of Huy Fong Foods, defended the company's steps taken so far. He said there had been no complaints about the Rosemead plant.

Air quality officials will be testing conditions at the plant Tuesday, he said. He also said it would impede efforts to alleviate the smell if the plant is closed and the emissions cannot be analyzed.

The city's lawsuit seeks to enjoin "all operations on ... the subject property until (Huy) abates the public nuisance herein by preventing and causing the emanation of the strong, offensive chili odor."

According to the complaint, residents began complaining to the city last month about the smell.

"The odors are so strong and offensive as to have caused residents to move outdoor activities indoors and even to vacate their residences temporarily to seek relief from the odors," according to the suit.

The city staff met with Huy Fong Foods officials Oct. 1 and the company representatives said they would "do everything possible to abate the odors."

But on Oct. 16, the city staff was told by a company official during another meeting that no odor problem existed, the suit says.

The next day, the city sent a notice of violation of the Irwindale Municipal Code to Huy Fong Foods and demanded that a strategy be put in place to correct the problem, according to the complaint.

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