Redevelopment in west Mesa is going to continue to be a controversial issue as long as the area offers 26 check-cashing stores, six pawnshops and a string of low-rent apartments - some with mattresses stacked up on porches and broken windows boarded up with plywood.
Residents of District 1 have two community-backed candidates to choose from when they head to the polls on March 11: Dave Richins and Matt Tolman.
Richins, 38, head of the West Mesa Community Development Corp., has been active in city politics for years, and since 2005 has led projects to fix up peeling facades in west Mesa and paint bridges marred with graffiti.
He favors restoring communities through property improvements, reducing loitering problems associated with illegal immigrants, funding core city services through a proposed bond issue and extending light-rail service in the city.
Matt Tolman, 41, is a property manager and entrepreneur with an extensive political background who serves as chairman of Republican Legislative District 18, a district represented by Rep. Russell Pearce, Sen. Karen Johnson and Rep. Mark Anderson, all Mesa Republicans.
Tolman's platform includes streamlining government to make Mesa more business-friendly, opposing public safety and transportation bonds to keep property taxes low, studying the effects of light rail before extending service, and giving police officers authority to question suspects' immigration status in the field as well as in jails.
Richins is a 10-year Mesa resident whose prior career as a salesman of surgical instruments gave way to running a nonprofit organization dedicated to neighborhood improvement. He's a married father of three children.
Now, Richins says he wants to get on the council to start working on practical issues in District 1, and to combat government inertia.
Richins has said he would resign his position at West Mesa Community Development if elected to the City Council. The corporation runs largely off grants distributed by the city.
Tolman manages 50 properties around Mesa, many of which cater to low-income residents and some that have come under fire for being improperly maintained, either by owners or by his company, JMT Management LLC.
Tolman has also ventured into the coin laundry business, opening one in Mesa and another in Phoenix. He also owns a regional vending company that stocks snack machines, he said. He speaks fluent Spanish, having lived in South America, and said that ability would make him accessible to Hispanic voters in his district.
Tolman believes local government has obstructed development in downtown Mesa. He cited a proposed 80-room Comfort Inn that was pared down to 45 rooms because of what Tolman called a bad Mesa planning board decision.
"He's booked full. He's losing out on revenue," he said.
Richins, meanwhile, believes government should intervene to improve Mesa's aging west side. The Mesa Riverview retail complex and proposed Waveyard sports park are signs of progress in the area, he said, but other areas are descending into blight.
He said the city should enact codes that would allow them to tighten restrictions on landlords. "It helps everyone," Richins said.
Fred Ash, a retired property investor, knows Tolman through Republican Party connections.
Ash said Tolman's message of streamlining government resonates with him, especially at a time when Mesa is projecting a $16 million budget deficit during the next 18 months.
"I've seen the city of Mesa change," Ash said. "We've gone from one of the most development-friendly (cities) to people who are more concerned about rules and regulations."
District 1 resident Gabe Saia owns two commercial properties in west Mesa and said he sees potential in Richins' vision of the area's future.
"I think that what's unique about Dave is that he is a neighborhood man. He understands that we're an evolving community," Saia said.