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Organizers vow to save Tet celebration after Garden Grove drops OC Vietnamese festival

A float from the 2010 Vietnamese Tet Parade in Orange County.
A float from the 2010 Vietnamese Tet Parade in Orange County.
Nhat Ton/Flickr Creative Comons

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An organizer of the annual Vietnamese Tet Festival, a celebration of the Lunar New Year scheduled for the end of January, is vowing to keep the event on track – but not in the traditional host city of Garden Grove. Nina Tran, president of the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of Southern California, which organizes the festival, said the group is now in talks with other communities. She declined to mention specifics.

"As show biz personnel would say, "the show must go on!" Tran wrote in an e-mail. "UVSA is a community organization and has always looked at the festival as a community event. This event has been and always will be for the community."

City officials said they halted negotiations after the student group on Wednesday rejected a proposal that it pay $145,000 to cover festival costs, which includes use of Garden Grove Park and police services. The city said the festival's cost to the city has topped $100,000 each year, compared to the $30,000-plus the group has been typically charged. 

Tran said the newly-proposed fee was too high. Although festival revenues run at about $500,000, net profits total about $230,000, she said. After money for the next festival is set aside, Tran said, the group allocates half of what's left to its operating budget and directs the other half to donations. Last year, she said the group gave more than $80,000 to some 100 local organizations.

Garden Grove city officials have accused the student group of  donating too little to locally based nonprofits.  But Tran countered that UVSA had given more than $1 million to Garden Grove organizations over the last decade. 

City officials saved their biggest criticism for the way the UVSA has handled its finances, saying "severely deficient and overdue financial reports" left revenues unaccounted for.  But Tran maintained that the group submitted "everything that the CPA had requested from us to the best of our knowledge."

Over the last decade, tens of thousands of Vietnamese-Americans have celebrated the Lunar New Year at the Tet Festival in Garden Grove.  Billed as the largest Tet festival outside Vietnam, the event spans three days of eating, carnival rides and live music.  

For the moment, the fate of the celebration remains uncertain. In a statement, Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater said:

"We have a responsibility to this community to look out for the interests of our city first and foremost. Given the facts and potential consequences, we feel we’ve made the right decision. We’re sorry to see the festival move to another city, but we sincerely wish the UVSA well.”