Garden Grove Council members demand pay-to-play, Tet Festival refuses

Photo: UVSA

What happens when a private party wants to hold an event and the city says, if you want to do it, you have to pay $75,000 a year, for 5 years, to this other private entity, because two City Council members are on the board of that other private entity?

You want to play, you got to pay Broadwater and Nguyen’s organization, city says.

That should make anyone’s blood boil, especially if one believes in plain old capitalism and the free market — and even more so in this post-Bell and anti-Kelo era.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in the city of Garden Grove, where after several years of trying, City Council members Bruce Broadwater (now mayor) and Dina Nguyen were still incapable of raising funds for their pet project, the Vietnam War Museum of America Foundation, so they — or at least Broadwater did — tried to make the Tet Festival‘s organizers fork more than a third-a-million over to their non-profit corporation.

Yeah. We don’t know how to fund-raise, so we’ll make someone else pay for our toy.

The 2014 Tet Festival would be the 11th year the Union of Vietnamese Students Association (UVSA) organize at Garden Grove Park under a lease with the city. The second five-year contract expired this year, and the two sides were negotiating for another five-year lease, when, at a meeting attended by Broadwater and city staff, Garden Grove dropped a bombshell: They wanted UVSA to “donate” at least $75,000 to the Vietnam War Museum. This ignominious and communistic proposal was memorialized in a letter from the city to UVSA, shown above.

The total demanded by the city on behalf of this private entity amounts to a minimum of $375,000 over the time covered by the proposed contract.

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The Council members’ pet project

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The Vietnam War Museum is, so far, an entity existing solely on paper. The City of Garden Grove voted in 2010 to spend $25,000 on a feasibility study, and put Broadwater and Nguyen on its Board. The study’s results came back seven months later, with a price tag at a whopping $50 million.

At this rate of net proceeds of $3962 a year, it will take 12,600 years for the Vietnam War Museum to get the $50 million it needs.

Usually, that means the Board of Directors should get going on fund-raising. But the organization’s filings with the IRS for the year 2012 show a paltry $29,597 in assets and $31,110 in gross revenue.

The net proceeds for Garden Grove’s Vietnam War Museum for 2012 was $3,962. At that rate, it will take more than 12,600 years to raise the needed $50 million.

The filings also disclose a convenient $999 expense for “Board retreat and meetings.” Broadwater and Nguyen are two out of six members on the Museum’s Board, and Nguyen its only Vietnamese member.


And the Museum managed to spend $5,389 on “Occupancy, rent, utilities, and maintenance,” despite having no location — the Museum’s web site does not show a street address, its IRS filings use the City Hall’s address, and the only physical indication of its existence is a “Future Site of the Vietnam War Museum” sign on an abandoned office building on Harbor Boulevard.

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The most over-charged festival in Garden Grove

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So naturally the UVSA says no. No way they were going to send money to another entity just because the Council members are on the Board. And they told the City that there may be a conflict of interest issue for these politicians.

In the latest counter offer from the city, they dropped mention of the War Museum’s name, but still wanted $75,000 a year paid to the city. They probably think don’t want to go to jail on corruption charges. And with two votes already in the pocket, they only need just one more vote and get a majority of the City Council to give the $75,000 to the War Museum.

That would make the Vietnamese Tet Festival pay the highest, by far, costs to the City of Garden Grove.

A chart distributed to the media by the UVSA compares the fees paid by the four annual festivals taking place in the city.

 

Part of UVSA’s fairness argument are the data here.

In contrast with the 3-day Tet Festival, the Strawberry Festival takes place over 4 days, plus a parade, and only has to pay fees capped at a maximum of $30,000 to the city.

The Tet Festival, on the other hand, has been paying anywhere between $40,000 to $63,000 each year from 2009 to 2013, according to the UVSA’s Phu Nguyen, and with the latest demand, these fees would explode to a whopping $150,000.

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Straw applicant?

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While the negotiations were going on, out of nowhere popped another applicant to the City to organize the Tet Festival in place of UVSA.

The application by the Trung-Tam Van-Hoa Hong-Bang (TTVHHB) was placed on the agenda for the City Council’s meeting on 8/28. The proposal by TTVHHB lays out all the conditions that Garden Grove has demanded of UVSA and accepts them all.

Unlike the Vietnam War Museum, TTVHHB is a long-time nonprofit with an actual legitimate presence and a history of doing work, the most prominent of which is a Vietnamese-language school for kids. They have also been part of a group of organizers of a Tet festival in Rosemead, traditionally taking place one week after the one in Garden Grove.

When someone with net income of $362 makes a bid to pay $150,000 a year, the most natural question is whether it’s a real bid.

While perfectly legitimate in terms of activities, however, it is unclear whether TTVHHB truly has the financial wherewithal to actually carry out what it proposed.

TTVHHB’s filings with the IRS for 2011 – the latest year available – show revenue of $139,803 and expenses of $139,441, for a total income of merely $362 (yes, three hundred bucks), far far short of the $150,000 it offered the city. The organization’s net assets amount to only $19,453.

In addition, as TheLiberalOC discovered, the organization is in trouble with the state over its annual filings.

“An August 19, 2013 letter from Attorney General Kamala Harris indicates that TTVHHB has failed to file its tax returns and pay registration renewal fees to the state from 2007 to 2011. Until those records, and delinquent fees, are filed with the state, the state will not accept payment for the 2012 fees.”

Since the UVSA’s finances are audited by a CPA designated by the City (and paid for by UVSA), this factoid about TTVHHB shows it may not meet the transparency needed to produce the Tet Festival.

Ever since this proposal came to light, all major Vietnamese-language media outlets have been trying to get hold of the organization, but so far only Vien Dong Daily News has gotten hold of Cang Nguyen, the group’s president.

He told the paper, “We put our application in Just in case UVSA doesn’t meet the City’s demands, to prevent communists from taking over the festival” — thus insinuating that Garden Grove is perfectly willing to vote for a communist festival.

The TTVHHB proposal was pulled from the agenda in the last minute and postponed for later. A TV host from a major Vietnamese-American station noted to the Bolsavik that Dina Nguyen was not going to make the 8/27 meeting, and that was why the proposal was pulled.

Maybe. Anyway, it’s still pretty obvious that the TTVHHB proposal has no meat and was probably only used as a ploy to strong-arm UVSA.

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Now what?

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That didn’t really work. On 9/4, a week after the canceled agenda item, the UVSA sent a new counter to the city, and, like the Strawberry Festival, they wanted a cap on fees. Their proposal is for a deposit of $50,000 and a maximum of $75,000.

Supported by several community groups, including the very activist Coalition of The Republic of Vietnam Veteran Associations (Vietnamese name: Liên hội Cựu Chiến sĩ VNCH), the UVSA also plans on being at Tuesday’s City Council meeting to decry what they consider an unreasonable and unfair demand.

The UVSA particularly emphasized the fact that over the past 11 years, it has donated half of festival net proceeds to local nonprofits, for a total of over $1,000,000.

A demand of more than $375,000, just for the War Museum, would break the back of this donation tradition, and would force charities ranging from help to at-risk children in Orange County to disabled veterans of the former ROVN still in Vietnam, to compensate for Broadwater and Nguyen’s incompetent fundraising and subsidize their pet project.

Future site of the Vietnam War Museum, on Harbor Boulevard. Photo capture from Google Streetview.

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