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More on GRO: Council discusses AAP public engagement and accessibility

The conversation about the GRO site's AAP continued during Monday night’s city council meeting.

GRO Burnaby

A rendering of the City of Burnaby's Green Recycling and Organics (GRO) facility that could be built on 21 acres of parkland at Fraser Foreshore Park. (City of Burnaby)

The conversation around Burnaby’s proposed Green Recycling and Organics (GRO) facility continued during Monday night’s city council meeting.

Council reviewed a report about enhanced public education around the city’s alternative approval process (AAP) to determine whether or not 21 acres of current parkland at Fraser Foreshore Park should be undedicated in order to build the facility.

Residents who wish to oppose the undedication of the parkland have until April 28 to sign and return an elector response form, which must be done on paper and returned by mail or in person. The forms are available online (to be printed) or can be picked up at five locations around the city. Electronic submissions are not permitted.

Those who wish to support the project being built at the Fraser Foreshore site do not need to take any action, and those who don’t participate will be counted as being in favour of the facility.

If fewer than 16,250 residents—or 10% of those eligible to vote in municipal elections in Burnaby—vote in opposition to the project, the city can proceed with the undedication. The process has been criticized by many residents for its lack of engagement with the community.

During the Feb. 27 city council meeting, Coun. Alison Gu introduced a motion requesting staff to look into the possibility of a mail-in ballot process.

Staff reported back on the matter on Monday night, concluding that a mail-in ballot option was not “feasible” because AAPs require resident participation by opposing submissions only and “if elector response forms are sent out to the entire electorate, it could be perceived that Legislative Services is presupposing how each eligible elector would ‘vote.’”

Instead, Legislative Services says it is provided some “enhanced services” in relation to the AAP, such as pre-paid postage envelops addressed to its office at City Hall included in the voter packages (available at pick-up locations), and translated versions of the elector response forms in six languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Tagalog, Spanish, and Persian). As well, it says that accessibility accommodations to receive AAP voting packages are available on a case-by-case basis.

The report notes that there will also be two public open houses to give residents more opportunities to learn about GRO and receive clarifications on the AAP. The events will take place sometime in late March and early April. A video about the project will also be presented at the open houses.

In response to the report, Gu expressed that she was “a bit disappointed” to see how the AAP process moved forward.

“I think there was a bit of confusion. I was under the assumption that staff would report back to council as typically traditional, and when this AAP moved forward with staff deciding on certain steps to take to improve the process, I was a bit taken aback by that,” she said.

Gu asked if staff were able to explore the feasibility of residents being able to return their filled-out forms via an email PDF, making it easier for them to send in their ballots. She added that she was made aware that this is an option offered by Prince George for its AAP process.

Nikki Best, director of the city’s legislative services department, noted that other communities have “different ways of facilitating the AAP.”

Best said that Legislative Services and legal did inquire about PDF email submissions but decided that “to protect the integrity of the AAP process here, we would have to introduce and develop policies that have not been written before” and “there would be no way to ensure the protection of privacy and integrity of the ballot.” She added that the City of Burnaby does not have a digital signatures acceptance policy and digital signatures are not accepted in elections.

“We would essentially be inventing a wheel here that’s never been invented,” she said.

Coun. Daniel Tetrault had questions specific to open houses and how the city would advertise them.

Staff confirmed that the city would share information about the town halls on its website and social media, and ensure that information would be available at community centres as well.

Coun. Richard T. Lee inquired about more advertising about the AAP around the city.

Juli Halliwell, general manager of corporate services, said that the city was looking into a mail-out postcard with information, but the $30,000 that it could cost has not been factored into the current budget.

Best also had a few comments about the AAP itself, saying that it is “an early stage” of the overall GRO facility process.

“This is for park dedication removal bylaw. If this AAP fails or proceeds, council still has to adopt the bylaw. Council still has to go through consultation and engagement of the site itself and the engagement of what’s going to happen and how the site will be built,” she said. “This is stage one. If council has an AAP process and fails, it does not allow the project to proceed at the site at the size as proposed in the council reports.”

The recommendations in the report for enhanced community engagement were seconded and carried.