COMPTON — Local residents and the City Council shared their mixed feelings on helping an indoor vertical farming company move to the city during a public hearing Sept. 10.
In the end, the council voted unanimously tosupport Plenty’s proposal.
San Francisco-based company, Plenty Unlimited Inc., known as Plenty, proposed expanding its company with a new location in Compton. The company is eyeing a 100,000-square-foot property on East Orris Street.
What makes Plenty unique is its claim of being environmentally friendly, pesticide-free and their leafy-green produce “never needing washing.” According to the company’s Chief Financial Officer, Mike Gupta, Plenty’s farms use “1% less land and 5% less water than traditional farms.”
One thing stopping the move to Compton is the city’s 10% utility user tax, which is higher than surrounding cities like Carson that have a 2% tax and Los Angeles County, whose utility users tax is 4.5%.
According to Gupta and Market Developer Camille Bamford, Plenty is a “very heavy power user.” To assist in the commitment to move to the city, Plenty is proposing a utility user tax reduction.
“This year, we are looking to start construction on our next farm,” Gupta said. “Our new farm will be several times larger than our South San Francisco farm and we expect it to be the largest and most advanced indoor farm in the country. Plenty has a choice as to where we want to locate this farm but we’d be honored to locate it here in Compton.”
According to Bamford, the company looked at more than 100 sites in Southern California and Nevada and found Compton as its top choice.
Plenty’s farming methods allow it to grow “the same amount of produce that [a regular farm] would grow on [an] entire soccer field in just the area of a goal,” Gupta said. But, the company’s methods, advanced equipment, technology and lighting, would put them “at a disadvantage” regarding utilities.
The deal company officials have worked out with the city includes a structured five-year deal of paying the usual 10% utility users tax until a threshold of $300,000 is reached. After that, the company would pay a reduced tax of 4.5%. The deal could extend five more years, according to the proposed resolution.
Additionally, Plenty wants to bring 50 new jobs to the area, fulfill its promise to have at least 30% of the employees at the new facility be Compton residents, provide annual youth and college educational programs for middle school and college students and work with restaurants and local stores to bring fresh and affordable greens.
Even with these benefits, Compton residents have mixed feelings.
Robert Ray felt that giving Plenty a tax reduction was setting a precedent for companies with higher utilities to want a discount as well.
“It’s good for one, it’s going to have to be good for everybody,” Ray said. “So, I’m against one company getting a discount unless you give everybody a discount.”
Other residents like Robert Rodriguez, who lives and works in Compton, thinks having a farm in the city would be great for the community.
“If we, Compton, are going to move into the 21st century, very much in a similar path that they’re trying to bring our city into, I honestly agree with it because they’re trying to bring economic opportunity,” he said.
Others who addressed the council during the Sept. 10 meeting had questions about gentrification, longevity, supporting the undocumented and those with criminal backgrounds, the produce being pesticide-free and the effects Plenty’s presence would have on local grocery stores.
Gupta and Bamford attempted to answer those questions and better explain why the company needed the tax reduction.
“We’ve reviewed this with Southern California Edison, we’ve reviewed this with some third-party researchers and what is great about the structure is that the tiered structure does not come as a benefit to Plenty unless we hit this minimum threshold and that threshold is higher than what a traditional user would use,” Gupta said. “So, unless we hit that threshold, we do not get that reduction or that rate. And even after that, we will continue to pay which will mean five times the revenue for the city of Compton.”
Despite concerns from some residents, the mayor and council members had positive opinions on the company’s potential impact.
“This project is really something different and will put Compton in a league of its own in comparison to other communities for agriculture and vertical farming,” Mayor Aja Brown said. “I just encourage everyone to look into it and recognize Compton’s rich history with agriculture. I really thought it brought us full circle.”
District 1 Councilwoman Michelle Chambers agreed.
“We need employment in our community,” Chambers said. “Our community needs to be put to work and I made that commitment that anyone that would come to the city of Compton and do business I would encourage [them] to hire in the city. We deserve access to healthy foods, we deserve employment opportunities, we deserve to be ahead of the curve, so I support Plenty.”
“Plenty has a choice as to where we want to locate this farm but we’d be honored to locate it here in Compton.”
— Plenty CFO Mike Gupta