Opinion: Abolishing Vernon, a critical view from a venerable family in the coffee business

For the past few months, I and many members of my family have taken time away from running our business, Gaviña Gourmet Coffee, to spend time flying back and forth to Sacramento.  Instead of working on expansion plans or trying to sign new clients, we’ve spent many hours explaining to Assemblymembers and Senators why AB 46 hurts businesses and eliminates jobs and why AB 781 doesn’t fix the problems of AB 46.  Legislator by legislator, we’ve told the story of how our family came to Vernon over 40 years ago to start a new life and achieve the American dream.  However, all of this is now threatened by Speaker Pérez’s attempt to destroy the last bastion of manufacturing in Southern California.  

The Gaviña family has been in the coffee business for over 140 years, starting as growers in Cuba in the late 1800s. Generations of Gaviñas grew up on the plantation and learned the art of selecting quality beans and roasting coffee.  However, the life my family had established in Cuba was destroyed with the Communist Revolution in 1960.  The Gaviña family’s land, businesses and all assets were nationalized by Fidel Castro’s government leaving my family with nothing but the option to leave their beloved Cuba with the hope of starting over.  My grandparents, Francisco and Anatolia Gaviña, emigrated with their four children to Spain and then to the United States, where they dreamed of roasting coffee once again.  In 1967, Francisco and his sons rented a 1,100-square-foot space in Vernon, Calif., installed a second-hand roaster and put Gaviña Coffee back into business.  Because of the business-friendly environment of the City of Vernon, my family was able to expand such that we currently operate in a 249,000-square -foot facility in Vernon today.  

Since setting roots in Southern California, Gaviña Gourmet Coffee, roasters of Don Francisco’s, Café La Llave and Jose’s coffee brands, has grown to nearly $110MM in annual revenues and currently employs over 260 workers.  Although the company is strong, the business is challenged.  Coffee commodity prices have more than doubled in the past year and increased competition from out-of-state – the company recently lost a large West Coast account to a coffee roaster operating in Texas – has hurt business, especially in these economic times. But, instead of trying to help local businesses stay above water, bills like AB 46 and AB 781 just make it that much harder for our businesses to compete.  As business people, we don’t understand why the California legislature would pass bills that make it more expensive to do business here, putting jobs and economic output at risk.

 As long-time business owners in Vernon, the issues surrounding the disincorporation of the city are of great concern to the Gaviña family.  The effects of AB 46 and AB 781 are clear. They will result in loss of essential city services (e.g. police, class 1 fire, health and environmental, etc.) and will cause an increase of operating costs due to increased utility rates,  taxes, fees, insurance and security – not to mention a 25 percent negative impact on the value of our Vernon property.  We work in a small margin industry.  Any increase of just one cost or fee can have detrimental effects.  A combination of all of these increases will result in extremely tighter margins and will cause the contraction of many low-margin businesses.  Also, since we work with suppliers and charities around the state, including our coffee can vendor in Modesto and many others throughout California, the impacts of these bills will be felt statewide.  

Although Speaker Pérez tried – without consulting any local business for input – to correct the problems of AB 46 with AB 781, AB 781 has many glaring holes.  “Protecting” rates and land use decisions for only short periods of time doesn’t work for businesses looking to expand and grow.   All of the proposed changes to Vernon will impact the company’s future investment choices.  

Right after AB 46 was proposed, my family initiated a study for potential expansion of production out of state.  We’ve also had numerous states, including Texas and North Carolina, reach out to us, to let us know they’re interested in our business.  Although the Gaviña family has established a beautiful life in California, the 4th generation of Gaviñas in coffee will do whatever is necessary to ensure there is a 5th generation of Gaviñas in coffee.

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