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COLUMN: Chilliwack’s growing pains need to be addressed

Positive growth is happening all over the city but can we keep up with services?
Part of Chilliwack as seen from Elk Mountain. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress file)

In case you haven’t noticed, Chilliwack is growing.

But is it bursting at the seams faster than we can keep up?

More people are still moving to the west coast from the rest of Canada as they have for decades. More people are coming to Canada, particularly the west coast.

And more people have been realizing that Metro Vancouver is just too expensive so there is a boomerang effect as they then head east to Burnaby and Coquitlam and Surrey.

Then they find even those communities too expensive. Chilliwack might just be the last bastion of urban affordability from the Salish Sea to Spuzzum.

(Although even Chilliwack is getting unaffordable with the average selling price of a home up to $525,000 last month from $384,000 in March 2016.)

• READ MORE: Chilliwack real estates sales still slumping as prices stay steady

People are moving here. I know, I know, thanks Captain Obvious.

With the growth comes some really positive changes in the works across the city in Sardis, in the Vedder Crossing area, the Eastern Hillsides, and critically, in the heart of downtown.

The navel-gazing critics of crime rates and homelessness who don’t realize these are issues everywhere in the western world will never be satisfied. But change is good. Growth is natural.

But are we are able to keep up?

Various news stories in recent days point to a city that is growing, just maybe a little too fast.

(A mid-column warning: This column has questions, no answers.)

Some examples: the vast majority of the growth is on the south side of the city, yet the B.C. Ambulance Service station is next to city hall on Young Road. Are ambulances being dispatched in as timely a fashion as is needed to Promontory and Sardis? I’ve heard anecdotes to suggest this might occasionally be an issue.

Fire crews? Stay tuned for more on this in the future, but some halls often only have two firefighters on duty. On a call to a structure fire, four are needed to enter the building so two just doesn’t cut it.

An (arguably) less-important subject: swimming lessons. Did you get your kids in? Our family tried with our two kids. We got one child in but the other, not a chance even just 24 hours after registration opened. Swimming isn’t just about recreation, It’s a life skill. It’s important.

Speaking of kids, are your kids in a portable? Not that there’s anything wrong with them, truly, but the over-capacity of Chilliwack’s public schools is at staggering proportions. So much so that plans for a southside school are a little like putting a tourniquet on a bleeding jugular.

• READ MORE: Number of portables in Chilliwack to push 100 by fall

Speaking of blood, then there is the hospital. After reporter Jessica Peters wrote a column about her experience in the ER, we’ve had others complain about Fraser Health’s changes, the B.C. Nurses Union responded, and others who work at CGH confirm the situation is dire. Some suggest Fraser Health is ignoring CGH despite population growth. I don’t know.

• READ MORE: COLUMN: Changes in the ER wait room may be causing more grief than good

The city is a sausage from Fairfield Island to Vedder Crossing, squeezed in the middle by the Agricultural Land Reserve, so we have to densify or head to the hills. In reality, both. I’ve been in town just 13 years, but since 2006 the population has increased from about 69,000 to about 90,000. That’s big change.

Chilliwack is a real city, a growing one and with that comes all the good and all the bad. There is no point in longing for the supposed good ol’ days. There is no going back.

Former mayor Sharon Gaetz was once criticized for blaming the increasing homeless problem in Chilliwack on growing pains.

The problem with that criticism is that Gaetz was mostly right.

I once asked Vancouver homeless advocate Judy Graves about that comment and she, too, agreed.

“She is right, which does not mean we should accept it,” Graves said.

• READ MORE: Judy Graves says the problem of homelessness is simple: The availability of housing

Realtors know it. City hall knows it. The school district knows it. Firefighters and paramedics and cops know it.

Growing pains are inevitable, but the results are worse if gone unrecognized.

I just hope those in charge of decision-making on the above issues and others can keep up.


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Judy Graves talking about homelessness in Chilliwack during a 2016 interview with reporter Paul Henderson. (Greg Laychak/Black Press file)