Gov. Brown ‘saves’ sriracha

Gov. Brown ‘saves’ sriracha

Sriracha , Huy fongFrom the looks of it, the sriracha scandal is over, thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Dig deeper, however, and the sudden resolution to the nine-month-old ordeal becomes more mysterious.

First, the simple part of the story. On Wednesday, the Irwindale City Council voted to drop both the lawsuit and nuisance declaration they’d been hanging over Huy Fong Foods, a sriracha hot-sauce manufacturer. The decision brought cheers from business leaders and residents, both of which have a big stake in the continued presence of the company in California.

Still, at first blush, the local reaction is at odds with what many reports presented as a citizen-driven outcry against Huy Fong. In fact, the South Coast Air Quality Management District only received 61 complaints about supposed bothersome odors, as the Pasadena Star-News reported; what’s more, 41 of those complaints came from the same four households. The city of Irwindale filed just 13 declarations from residents, according to the Star-News, one of which came from City Councilman H. Manuel Ortiz’s son, Manuel Ortiz Jr.

Although no one has publicly alleged that Huy Fong was the victim of an “inside job” attempt to bring it down, the abrupt end to Irwindale’s drive to shutter the sriracha plant sheds new light on the character of the claims that kicked off the city’s efforts.

Power players

Tellingly, Gov. Jerry Brown’s involvement in the surprise happy ending is also cloaked in some mystery. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, Brown’s Business and Economic Development Office hosted a closed-door meeting between city officials and Huy Fong CEO David Tran. When the doors opened, Irwindale Mayor Mark Breceda revealed he wanted the City Council to give up on any action against Huy Fong.

But as the Los Angeles Times noted, the Tuesday meeting was preceded by a very public tour of the Huy Fong facilities — the first time Irwindale officials made good on Tran’s repeated invitations to step inside his factory. The Times counted City Manager John Davidson, Mayor Mark Breceda, and Councilman Julian Miranda among the visiting party, which included cameramen, reporters and two “representatives” from the governor’s office.

Although the Times learned that the meeting following the tour did not include any attorneys, no more specific information was divulged about Brown’s representatives. They were simply described by officials as “observers.”

The Washington Post, however, reported the identity of one of the two figures — Leslie McBride, Brown’s deputy director of business investment services.

Still, the names of the biggest players resolving the sriracha crisis may remain anonymous. The Post, citing a nameless “adviser with knowledge of the meetings,” only identified the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation as key to brokering the truce between Tran and Irwindale.

Whoever caused those groups to take action, the upshot is clear. Tran and Breceda went on record with the Times with uncharacteristic and carefully chosen terms of praise for one another. “We understand each other, and we’re going to be working together,” said Tran. “We’re looking forward to being partners for a long, long time,” said the mayor.

Playing politics

According to Breceda, Irwindale changed its tune because Tran finally put his planned remediation measures into writing.

The bigger picture, however, is one in which Brown had to intervene to prevent sriracha from becoming an embarrassing and distracting political football with statewide and even national relevance during an election year.

A growing chorus of Republican voices — both in California and Texas — had rallied around the Huy Fong cause, portraying Tran’s plight as typical of entrepreneurs held back or penalized by California’s oppressive regulations.

Perhaps even more importantly, traditionally Democrat-leaning groups had begun to lobby Sacramento. Ruben Guerra, chairman of the Latino Business Association, went so far as to personally hand out bottles of Tran’s product to state legislators, according to the Times.

Now, Brown has turned sriracha from a liability into an emblematic success story. At a stroke, he has managed to defuse the conflict, take an issue away from Republicans, and satisfy the concerns of Asian-American, Latino and business groups.

With the appearance of ill-considered subterfuge still swirling around the initial allegations against Huy Fong, however, it wasn’t difficult for Brown to sweep in and ensure a reasonable outcome.

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