A year ago, Mesa City Councilman Mike Whalen thought the business market would take care of the glut of payday loan stores in the city. Now, Whalen says he was wrong.
“The mood of the city is, ‘We’ve got enough,’” he said Tuesday.
Last October, Whalen and the council voted down an ordinance that would have put a quarter mile between payday loan stores.
Whalen said he aims to bring the issue back to the City Council before his term ends in June.
The District 2 councilman’s apparent change of heart comes on the heels of Monday’s council vote against allowing a new Max-It pawn shop to open in west Mesa, and may indicate a change in the council’s usual approach.
For some members of the Council, private property rights and the free market have always governed city business.
For instance, Mayor Keno Hawker voted against the pawn shop, admitting it was a departure from his usual philosophy, but acknowledging the work that west Mesa residents had done to improve the area.
As for payday loans, Whalen said he bought the theory that bad operators would go away if the free market was allowed to dictate the business.
“I think enough is enough,” he said Monday. “When you’ve got a community that has fought so hard to come back from being so down, it’s the little things that make a difference to them.”
Discussions of pawn shops and payday loan stores in west Mesa always come down to improving the image of the area.
“It’s our neighborhood, why wouldn’t we want to change that?” said Dave Richins, a leader in the Mesa Grande Community Alliance, which vocally opposed the pawn shops and has spoken out against payday loan stores flooding the area.
Richins pointed to west Mesa developments such as Bass Pro Shops, Waveyard water adventure park, the Mesa Arts Center, light rail and the impending reinvestment at Fiesta Mall.
“That says something about what’s happening here,” he said.
Since 2000, the number of payday loan stores in the state has grown into the hundreds, and Mesa is home to several. Some stores are only a few feet away from each other.
“Residents don’t like the stores and they view it as a deterrent to what they view as healthier businesses,” said Vice Mayor Claudia Walters.
Walters heavily pursued the regulation of payday loan stores last time it came before the council.
She said she and Whalen already have started to revisit the issue.
“He came to me and said I’d like to fix it,” she said. “I said, ‘Wow.’”
But creating an ordinance to regulate the loan stores won’t be easy — even the second time around.
The City Council may face more difficulties now than they did last year with the passage of Proposition 207, and some council members still don’t like the idea.
The proposition approved by voters on the 2006 ballot says that property owners must be paid whenever state or local governments diminish the value of private property.
Walters said she is researching how Prop 207 would affect the regulation of payday loan stores.
Somers said he was surprised at Whalen’s change of heart, but said he would still vote against a distance requirement.
“It’s not going to reduce the number of those facilities, even though a lot of people hate these things,” he said.
The change needs to happen with banking laws and caps on interest rates, Somers said.
“This issue belongs on a state level,” he said.