Residents of Terra Bella have filed suit against the County of Tulare, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, and the Tulare County Resource Management Agency for permitting an expansion of the Setton Pistachio industrial processing facility without adequate environmental review.
Terra Bella Voice for Change is a group of residents from Terra Bella comprised primarily of low-income agricultural workers of Mexican descent. The community group formed in 2018 to address an ongoing sewage-like stench emanating from
a wastewater pond at the Setton Pistachio facility, located in the center of Terra Bella. Terra Bella Voices for Change claim the odor filled the community for more than a year, preventing children from playing outside and families from opening their windows.
Setton General Manager Lee Cohen called the suite “baseless.” He said Setton has always worked in good faith to deal with the order issue.
Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved the expansion of the Setton Pistachio facility that would include the construction of 24 silos, each holding up to 1.8 million pounds of pistachios, and would increase the production capacity of the facility by more than 40 percent. The project would also install dozens of pieces of machinery to power a new processing plant.
The County approved the project by using a provision of the California Environmental Quality Act that allowed it to evade its obligation to tell the public in advance about the expansion, Terra Bella Voice for Change claimed. The County prepared the expansion application in secret, only revealing its plan to approve the expansion days before it was approved, the Terra Bella Voice for Chang claimed. The organization claimed residents of Terra Bella essentially had no idea the County was going to allow yet another industrial expansion of the facility, which has been expanding for decades.
The county, when approving the expansion, didn't fully consider the environmental impact the expansion might have and how it would impact the community, TBVC stated.
But Cohen said Setton has followed all the proper procedures when it comes to the needed permits for the project.
“That's 100 percent categorically false,” said Cohen about Setton not having the proper permits. “The facts they are asserting are totally wrong,” Cohen said. “They just have bad information. They're just trying to prevent jobs in the community.”
The expansion is likely to bring significantly more semi-trucks through a residential area, create noise, dust, odors, and air pollution, TBVC claimed. The facility is located immediately next to a residential neighborhood, and less than ½ mile from two schools.
TBVC’s Petition requests the court reverse the County’s approval of the expansion project and prohibit Setton from using any expansion equipment to process pistachios.
“Residents demand the opportunity to be informed of the developments that will impact their communities and that a full environmental review be conducted,” TBVC stated.
A case management conference for the suit is scheduled for December 21.
Cohen said Setton has always operated with “high integrity, high ethics. We're doing everything right, everything proper. We're proud of our growth and we're proud of our expansion. We stand on our record.”