No 3-day Tet festival in F.V. this year, but there will be a concert

The OC Tet Festival, which was held last year at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, has been canceled for 2017.

The event, started in 2014 at Garden Grove Park by the Vietnamese Community of Southern California, was a celebration of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, known as Tet.

In its stead, a daylong Tet concert will be held Jan. 28 at Mile Square, managed and sponsored by Orange County, according to Brian Pobolsky, chief of staff for county Supervisor Andrew Do, whose district includes the park.

Also, a three-day Tet festival is scheduled for Jan. 27-29 at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa, presented by the nonprofit Union of Vietnamese Student Associations.

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According to county spokeswoman Carrie Braun, Orange County Parks did not receive an application this year for a permit for the Vietnamese Community of Southern California festival at Mile Square.

The three-day event was originally intended to cater to the Vietnamese community in Garden Grove's Little Saigon neighborhood, but it struggled to make the money organizers anticipated, according to Kimberly Huy, community services director for the city of Garden Grove.

"They paid us for the full costs for the first festival in 2014, but the next year, they did not pay the full amount," Huy said.

According to Huy, the group has an outstanding balance of $27,000 for park maintenance and public safety costs that "they've made no effort to pay back."

Representatives of the organization could not be reached for comment about the 2014 and 2015 festivals.

In 2016, organizers put in an application with the county to use Mile Square Regional Park and reached out to Do, who helped arrange the free festival under the jurisdiction of OC Parks.

"The supervisor's office … was able to waive some of the permit fees for the organizers," Pobolsky said.

The event, held Feb. 12-14, attracted about 120,000 visitors, according to 2016 festival chairman Tuan Nguyen. The festival included arts and crafts and martial arts exhibitions, a beauty pageant, traditional Vietnamese performances and folkloric dancing.

Revenue from sponsorships and vendor sales totaled about $300,000, Nguyen said.

However, with total expenses, including security and park maintenance, the bill was higher than expected and organizers initially struggled to pay the city of Fountain Valley for permit and public safety costs and services, along with companies that provided fencing, toilet rentals and other services.

"Since it was our first time at Mile Square Park, rates were high — a lot of the costs were unexpected and exaggerated, and we didn't know how successful the event was going to be," Nguyen said.

According to Maggie Le, Fountain Valley assistant to the city manager, the Vietnamese Community of Southern California has paid off the rest of its fees.

"We were able to pay back most of the vendors, and the rest are under contract or agreement," Nguyen said. "No one has any problems with us."

Separate from the Vietnamese Community of Southern California, Nguyen has incorporated his own organization, called OC Tet Festival Inc., with the goal of putting on independent community events.

"My plan is to get ready for next year and make it an independent Tet festival. My goal has always been to make the event as politically free as possible," he said.

Nguyen did not go into detail as to why there is no OC Tet Festival this year, saying only, "The decision was political and not on our office."

He said he hopes to hold the next event at Mile Square, with more parking and shuttles for festival-goers.

"It's important to the community," Pobolsky said. "In future years, [Do] will take a more proactive, committed leap on having a festival next year in the county. There is no doubt that he will hold a full festival next year at Mile Square Park."

The Tet festival this month in Costa Mesa is the Union of Vietnamese Student Association's 36th annual festival and the fourth at the Orange County fairgrounds.

The event is run entirely by volunteer college and high school students and young professionals.

"This year's festival theme, 'Spring in Harmony,' emphasizes our hope that despite what's happening in the world, we want to make the Tet festival a place where people can come together," said Arlene Ho, chairwoman of the UVSA festival.

Profits from the event are reserved for grants and distributed to groups such as the American Red Cross, said Billy Le, former UVSA president and festival chairman.

Le, a community liaison for the Westminster Police Department, said his group doesn't see other local festivals as competition.

"We welcome all people, all groups, to celebrate the Lunar New Year," he said.

The UVSA Tet Festival will include a cultural village, live performances, the Miss Vietnam of Southern California Pageant, a pho-eating contest and other attractions.

Escobar is a contributor to Times Community News.

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