The Assemis have agreed to halt construction on a pistachio processing plant in western Fresno County until county officials have a chance to fully vet the project.
Ventana South, LLC and Touchstone Pistachio, LLC entered into a code enforcement settlement agreement with the county over the project in Cantua Creek, about 20 miles south of Mendota.
Darius Assemi, a partner in the pistachio enterprise, is the publisher of GV Wire.
The agreement was signed Dec. 11 between Farid Assemi with the pistachio group and Fresno County Public Works and Planning Director Steven White.
The issue is also at the heart of a lawsuit filed by a rival pistachio processor, Wonderful Nut Orchards LLC, whose suit against the county remains in play. However, a county spokesman says this action is separate from the lawsuit.
Stop Construction Order Won’t Be Challenged
The county issued permits for the facility at 34411 W. Kamm Avenue, between I-5 and Highway 33, in September. Nearly seven weeks later, the county issued a stop-work order after the county discovered steel structures that did not have the proper permitting or inspections.
As part of the settlement, the county will hold in abeyance any penalties from potential violations, meaning they will suspend actions they could take. These include a $1,000 per day per violation fine, rescinding permits, and denying land-use approvals.
In return, Ventana South and Touchstone Pistachios will halt construction on the property until the county issues the necessary approvals. In addition, the processors will not appeal the stop-work order decision and agreed not to sue the county over the issue. The processors also will help cover the cost of defending potential lawsuits, one of which has already been filed.
To help pay for the county’s legal defense, Ventana South and Touchstone Pistachios will deposit $250,000 in an escrow account.
Wonderful Nut Orchards filed a suit against the county in December, claiming the county did not conduct the proper environmental review before its initial approvals of the Cantua Creek facility.
A Wonderful spokesman would not say how the agreement between Ventana/Touchstone and the county would affect its lawsuit.
According to the Fresno County Superior Court website, the next court date for the civil suit is March 19, in front of Judge Jeffrey Hamilton.
Not the First Assemi-Wonderful Suit
The Assemis filed a lawsuit against Wonderful Pistachios earlier this year. In that suit, the plaintiffs allege that the company owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick of Beverly Hills failed to pay a contractual 30% bonus for pistachios provided by the Assemis in 2018.
The lawsuit alleges that Wonderful balked at paying the Assemis a bonus because they would no longer be growing pistachios for Wonderful.
Read Settlement Agreement Between Ventana and County