Little Saigon's Tet Festival canceled in money dispute with city

The long-running Tet Festival, a signature event in America’s largest Vietnamese American community, has been abruptly canceled following a dispute between organizers of the Lunar New Year event and city officials in Garden Grove.

The three-day festival, which organizers claim is the largest event of its kind outside Vietnam, is an annual favorite in the Little Saigon community, a bustling ethnic enclave that sprawls over four cities in the center core of Orange County.

The event has traditionally been held at Garden Grove Park, a facility large enough to accommodate the tens of thousands who attend the colorful celebration.

This year, though, contract talks between city officials and the Union of Vietnamese Students Assn., which organizes the festival, broke down over money issues. City officials said festival organizers would have to find a way to cover the costs that the city has absorbed over the years.

Councilwoman Dina Nguyen said the festival has cost the city nearly $1.2 million in the last 11 years, a figure that organizers said seemed inflated.

The two sides squared off in a September public meeting that drew hundreds.

"Please don't mess with success," pleaded Arlene Ho. The student association members told council members that 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," conceded Councilman Steve Jones.

But he agreed with colleagues that there had to be better financial accountability for the festival.

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anh.do@latimes.com