Fountain Valley tries getting comfortable with big crowd headed to Tet festival

FOUNTAIN VALLEY – Worried Fountain Valley officials seriously considered rejecting a Tet festival at Mile Square Regional Park after receiving a letter from Orange County Parks on Jan. 11 that estimated attendance could reach 100,000 over three days.

However, a second letter from the county on Jan. 29 revised that number to 15,000 per day – the maximum allowed for a park event in a longstanding agreement between the city and county.

The letter explained the much-larger figure was an exaggerated “marketing number” used by festival promoters.

So rather than face what was sure to be a controversial vote on the festival Tuesday night, council members watched a presentation by Fountain Valley Community Services Manager Rob Frizzelle about the logistics of the traditional Lunar New Year celebration – now inked on the city’s calendar for Friday, Feb. 12 through Sunday, Feb. 14.

Frizzelle told council members that the festival’s promoter, Vietnamese Community of Southern California (VCSC), has already given the city an $80,000 deposit – some $15,000 more than the anticipated costs for firefighters, police and safety inspections.

Additionally, parking permits — distributed to residents — will be required in nearby neighborhoods during the festival to discourage traffic in residential areas. Organizers have arranged for offsite parking and shuttles at various Fountain Valley locations, including MemorialCare Medical on Warner Avenue.

The Orange County Transportation Authority will extend bus-stop hours at Mile Square Park to 10 p.m. during the festival.

The fair will feature about 65 international food booths and trucks, carnival rides, musical performances, vendors and fireworks on the county side of Mile Square Park. OC Parks oversees 607 acres of the park off Euclid Street, and Fountain Valley leases 65 acres off Brookhurst Street.

Tuan Nguyen, chairman of the O.C. Tet Festival, told council members that entertainment will be spread throughout the day to avoid a bottleneck of visitors.

Despite such considerations, Frizzelle allowed, “We’re in uncharted waters.”

After a falling out with Garden Grove, the VCSC announced in November it would relocate its festival to Fountain Valley – “a good fit,” according to Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, who was instrumental in bringing the event to Mile Square Park.

Fountain Valley is home to more than 11,500 Vietnamese Americans – about one-fifth of the city’s population.

Some council members at the Tuesday meeting continued to express concern about the crowds the festival could attract.

John Collins conveyed skepticism about the the new 15,000 estimate. And Mark McCurdy pointedly asked, “This is the only free festival in Orange County, correct?”

Another Tet festival – this one with a cover charge — will take place on the same dates at the O.C. Fair and Event Center.

Frizzelle said the gates to the park will be closed in the event of extreme crowding and unsafe conditions.

Councilman Steve Nagel concluded on an optimistic note – while gently chiding OC Parks. “I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will be a memorable event,” he said. “But in the future, let us know a little further ahead of time so things can be worked out.”

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