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Tet organizers scramble to save festival, want new home

Arts and Culture

Organizers of the long-running lunar new year celebration in the largest Vietnamese American community in the United States are asking city leaders in Westminster to help save the event, which was abruptly canceled last week after a financial dispute.

City officials in Garden Grove effectively pulled the plug on the three-day Tet Festival after halting negotiations, saying that organizers had refused to show them how much money they were making and how it was being spent.

Now, organizers are asking neighboring Westminster to give them a home.

"That would be huge. That would be awesome," Westminster Councilman Sergio Contreras said Tuesday. "The challenge is finding a location big enough to hold the crowd."

Potential spots include Westminster Mall, Westminster City Hall or a high school campus, though accommodating the tens of thousands who attend the three-day celebration could be a problem. The issue is expected to be raised Wednesday at a council study session.

The event has traditionally been held at Garden Grove Park. It was scheduled to begin Jan. 31.

Garden Grove leaders have complained that the city is essentially subsidizing the festival. Councilwoman Dina Nguyen said the festival has cost the city nearly $1.2 million over the last 11 years, a figure that organizers said seemed inflated.

The city's final contract offer called for organizers to pay $145,000 to cover police services and other costs. The student group had been paying the city $30,000 a year.

"All along, we felt the city has not been negotiating in good faith," said Nina Tran, president of the student association. "I think it's just completely absurd they're asking for $145,000."

Officials, though, said the turning point in negotiations was the group's failure to disclose its financial records for the last four years. Bruce Broadwater, Garden Grove mayor, explained that the city would have settled just to get copies of the organizer's bank statements, but that it couldn't even get its hands on those documents.

"They just showed us bits and pieces," he added. "They withheld information because they don't want us to know where all the money is going."

In the 1990s, before the event moved next door to Garden Grove, the gathering had been held in Westminster before it grew in attendance.

The annual Tet Parade is still held in Westminster.

"We have the Tet parade -- why not the Tet festival?" Contreras said. "I remember going to the festival years ago -- just right here -- and it would be great to welcome them home."

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anh.do@latimes.com

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