LOCAL L.A. Now

Garden Grove wants Tet festival to stay -- at a cost

Facing a tense crowd, Garden Grove leaders announced Tuesday that they support keeping the hugely popular Tet Festival in their city but said its organizers must help make up $800,000 spent subsidizing the annual event.

Council members said the Union of Vietnamese Students Assn., which organizes the festival, would need to submit financial audits for the event covering the last four years before its contract is renewed.

"The truth of the matter is we're willing to negotiate," Mayor Bruce Broadwater told supporters of the celebration, which attracts more than 100,000 at the Lunar New Year and has been held at Garden Grove Park since 2002.

In recent days, another group that runs a Vietnamese language school, Hong Bang, stepped in to challenge the student association, whose-five year contract to stage the event is up for renewal. But that applicant withdrew shortly before the council meeting.

PHOTOS: 2012 Tet Festival in Garden Grove

Still, more than 200 people, nearly all Vietnamese Americans, packed the meeting, urging the council to continue hosting the festival.

"Please don't mess with success, " said Arlene Ho, a Garden Grove High graduate and student association secretary. She said her organization has raised more than $1 million for local educational and social service groups over the years.

Nghia X. Nguyen, who heads the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California, urged officials to back "the biggest Tet festival in the free world."

"It would be a shame to see this whole thing blow up over a clash of egos," Councilman Steve Jones said. But like his colleagues - Kris Beard and Chris Phan - he pushed for better "financial accountability."

Phan said being able to look over the missing financial documents would give him "more peace" before making a decision.

"We're looking for cost recovery," added Beard, noting that the city should be known for signature gatherings such as the Tet Festival, along with its annual marquee event, the Strawberry Festival.

But having the Tet celebration in Garden Grove has cost the city nearly $1.2 million in the last 11 years, according to Councilwoman Dina Nguyen.

With student organizers paying about $400,000 in city fees, Garden Grove had been left to subsidize nearly $800,000 in festival costs. Officials did not give a breakdown of the expenses.

"I'm not sure where they got that number," Ho countered. "Whatever fees they asked for in the past, we covered." UVSA is compiling the missing paperwork, which are financial reviews rather than audits, she added.

The 2014 festival is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.

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E-mail: anh.do@latimes.com
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