Political 'Outlaw' of Moorpark Wants Out After 24 Years

Joseph C. Latunski wants to get out of Moorpark.

Known for years as a rabble-rouser throughout the eastern Ventura County community of 10,000 people, Latunski is by his own admission an "outlaw" of sorts because of his strong opinions on most subjects, particularly local politics.

Now, after living 24 years in Moorpark and after countless attempts to steer the community in the right direction, at least to his way of thinking, Latunski is trying to sell his four-acre ranch and move on with his life.

"Since I've had a heart attack, and since everything I did turned to you-know-what, for my own well-being, I've got to get out of Moorpark," he said.

Opposed to the 'Clique'

Through the years, Latunski's rabble-rousing has centered around his opposition to what he calls the Moorpark "clique." It consists of the town fathers, the big ranchers, "the people who have been here for years protecting their own interests," he said.

Latunski's method of fighting "the clique" is unusual. Usually he paints his message on the side of a car or truck and rides through the streets of the city. On some occasions, when the issue has been hot, he has been known to hook up a loudspeaker to broadcast his point of view.

Latunski is an individualist, and he says he likes being that way. To him, the less there is of most things, particularly government, the better.

"We didn't come out here to Moorpark to have all these rules and regulations," Latunski said, referring to Moorpark's incorporation as a city in 1983. "That's why I resent cityhood. Why do we need another bunch of nuts between us and God?

"First, we've got the city, then the county, the state and the federal government and then we've got God. Hey, I'd rather talk to Him direct. The hell with all those other dummies."

Hates 'Stupidity, Waste'

His battles have sometimes left a bad taste in his mouth.

"I'm bitter in what people can do to other people," said the 62-year-old retired Lockheed engineer. "If I've got a razor tongue, it's because I hate stupidity . . . and I hate waste . . . and I hate lazy people."

However, Latunski's feelings about Moorpark weren't always bitter. In the late 1950s, he and his wife, Evie, and their four young sons would ride out to Moorpark every weekend from the San Fernando Valley, looking for a place to buy.

"I wanted to get the hell out of the San Fernando Valley into Moorpark," he said. "I went through Simi and took one look and threw up, and I took one look at Thousand Oaks and threw up again."

Feared Growth

He said his distaste for those areas was based on his feeling that big developers had moved in and controlled everything. He also feared that growth from the San Fernando Valley would spill into Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. Latunski did not see that happening to Moorpark, however.

After much looking, the Latunski family finally bought their Moorpark ranch in 1960 but could not move in because much work had to be done to make the place livable. Tired of commuting from the Valley to work on the ranch, the family began looking for a rental unit.

They found a house for $100 a month in a tract that had been deserted by the developer. According to Latunski, no one wanted to buy a home in Moorpark because of the half-dozen chicken ranches that seemed to attract a large population of flies.

Those flies soon got Latunski embroiled in a public controversy.

As he saw it, the County of Ventura "didn't give a damn about Moorpark."

"We were the dumping grounds of Ventura County," he said, "so whatever the city fathers wanted, or the clique, they would get. I said, 'Hey, what the hell is this? I come from the San Fernando Valley, (where) you go in the grocery store and, if there were three flies, the county health department comes in and shuts the store down.

"'Here in Moorpark, you didn't dare open your mouth--50 flies would get in,' I said. We had a county government where the health department wouldn't even come out. Why, there were open cesspools behind one of the biggest chicken ranches.

"The town fathers didn't want to make too much noise because the egg ranchers were money in their pocket. So, here is a little Polack who puts a sign on the side of his car, and he starts challenging the clique and the county Board of Supervisors."

Latunski said he raised such a stink about the flies that the supervisors formed a Mosquito Abatement District, the mere mention of which makes Latunski scoff.

"Hell, who did they put on the district except the brother-in-law of one of the largest chicken ranchers and other members of Moorpark's clique," he recalled.

The fly issue quieted down for a while, but soon a related controversy popped up. The part-time inspector for the district had allegedly dipped into public funds.

"Yes, there was a controversy," said Leta Yancy-Sutton, secretary for the Mosquito Abatement District since 1967. "Minutes of the district show the inspector had to reimburse the district for funds spent erroneously."

Latunski said he was furious and began a petition to "get rid of the district" and at the same time remove the chicken ranches from the center of Moorpark. He also built a giant fly, six feet long, with a wing span of 10 feet. Made from 100 pounds of plaster, the fly also had eyes that blinked on and off.

He mounted the fly on his truck with the sign, "Moorpark--Fly Capital of California. Help! We demand state action before it's too late. We are people, not pigs."

However, touring around Moorpark and the county wasn't enough. Latunski drove to Sacramento and parked the truck in front of the Capitol for three days while he tried to see any agency head who would listen to him.

"The state superintendent of schools said, 'The flies aren't so bad that the children can't eat their lunches,' " Latunski said. "The health department said, 'It's never been proven that flies are a health hazard.' "

Finally, at a hearing before the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, Latunski brought a bag filled with 1,900 flies.

"I caught 1,900 flies in my vestibule that I had sprayed with DDT a half-hour previously," he said. "I counted them, and then I took them and shoved the sack in front of the supervisors."

Board's 'Big Concession'

Latunski said, sarcastically, that the board "made a big concession and granted new zoning up the canyon in the Fairview area of Moorpark. In exchange, the chicken ranchers would get the hell out of the center part of Moorpark in a certain length of time . . . and they still violated it."

One egg ranch owned by S&K; Ranch Inc. still exists in Moorpark, along California 118. According to John Newton, a local planning consultant and a former employee of S&K; Ranch, there was a "time period of five years set to move up to the Fairview, but, as it turned out, upon closer reading of the county ordinance, it was not mandated that the egg ranches had to move, although 90% of them did."

Both Newton and Yancy-Sutton are considered part of the Moorpark clique by Latunski. Newton said of Latunski: "He has a flair for exciting the public. My concern is that the issues may not always be real. But he certainly raises the public's consciousness."

And it's true that no love is lost between Latunski and Yancy-Sutton, who was elected the first mayor of Moorpark in 1983 and will serve as city councilwoman until 1986. In November, Latunski accused Yancy-Sutton in a local weekly newspaper of trying to force three newly elected councilmen to make her mayor again.

'Always Respected Joe'

She denied the accusation. As for Latunski, she said: "I have always respected Joe, because he calls the shots like he sees them, not in some corner like some people. Joe has guts, and even if the issue is not the way I feel--and we've had our differences of opinion--I respect that."

Of Yancy-Sutton, Latunski said: "Don't let anybody kid you that Leta Yancy's a pushover--she's not. She never makes a false move, and she knows exactly what she's doing."

Pushing his black glass frames back onto the bridge of his nose and running his hand through his white hair, he said, "I know where there's a lot of bodies--I know where a lot of shady or sleazy things went on in town, and it was because of the clique. The clique could get anything done."

That was not always the case, said one longtime resident whose family settled in Moorpark in 1869. Riley Spencer Jr. remembers that it was Joe Latunski who single-handedly swayed the townspeople to vote for the sewer district so that Moorpark College could be built in the late 1960s.

"At first, Joe was against it," Spencer said, "but, after a lot of discussion, he finally came out for the sewer district."

Once Joined Establishment

Latunski shrugged. "I was against it," he said, "but then I got to thinking, 'Hey, even though the clique wants it, for once in my life it's better for the people in Moorpark.' The people in town said, 'Well, if Crazy Joe's for it, it must be pretty good.' "

And at one point Latunski even became a member of the community's establishment.

"Hell, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," he said. "I joined the Chamber of Commerce and became Mr. Good Guy. We started talking about cityhood around 1965-66, and the chamber put me on the incorporation committee. I began to push for cityhood, because Moorpark at that time had two car agencies giving the town a good tax base.

"Well, LAFCO (the Local Agency Formation Commission of Ventura County) said that Moorpark wasn't ready for cityhood, and it put out a negative report. Cityhood went down the drain. I got mad and told them to shove the Chamber of Commerce."

Coronary Changed His Life

In 1970, Latunski's life changed drastically when he had a massive coronary. "When I was lying in the hospital with needles stuck out of every place legal, and a few illegal," he said, "I made a promise to God that if He let me live I would spend the rest of my life doing His work. And, if I make a promise, I keep it."

Because of his promise, he said, he and his wife went to Bible college. "I set my priorities and changed my way of living," Latunski said. But, when a new effort for cityhood came in March, 1983, Latunski was rabble-rousing again. For weeks before the election, he could be seen riding around town with the message, "Vote No on Incorporation."

Latunski said he had changed his mind about incorporation because there was a very small sales tax base in Moorpark after the two car agencies moved to Simi Valley. He was also concerned that the new residents coming into Moorpark would have no conception of how the economics of cityhood work.

"There were a bunch of people who were coming in here, knew nothing about the history of Moorpark and wanted to see Moorpark become a beautiful city," he said. "Well, you've got to pay the fiddler."

Lost on Two Counts

His name was also on the ballot, in the hope that, if the residents voted for cityhood, he would be elected to the first City Council.

He lost on both counts.

Since incorporation, he said, the first City Council members "haven't done diddly--haven't put in sidewalks, haven't swept the streets in five years. All we've spent money on so far is in making rules and regulations and ordinances."

Latunski apparently was not alone in his thinking about the direction the City Council was taking. Two of the councilmen, Clint Harper and Jerry Straughan, ran for reelection and were defeated. A third councilman, Roger Beaulieu, did not run.

Latunski likes to think that he had "some small hand" in seeing the council change direction.

'Guru of Moorpark'

Believing that he needed to concentrate on three candidates to vote out Harper and Straughan, Latunski painted the names of Jim Weak, Thomas (Bud) Ferguson and Danny Woolard on his car a week before the election. When all three won, Latunski was jokingly called the "guru of Moorpark" by his friends.

"They're the kind of guys who have no ax to grind," Latunski said of the three councilmen. "If they stray, and I expect them to stray, they're the kind of guys you can go to and say, 'Hey, you're off the beaten path, buster! Get back on the path.' And I think they will do it."

He maintains that, even though Ferguson gave him $50 and Woolard $10 to put their names on his car, they never promised him anything.

"I can't be bought--I'm too stupid," he said.

Despite his support for some members of the council, he was rejected last week to fill a vacant seat on the local Parks and Recreation Commission. A 3-2 City Council vote against Latunski marked the first time anyone had been turned down for a commission position since Moorpark became a city.

His Life's Mission

Latunski has spent a lot of time thinking about his life's mission.

"I was put here to do something," he said. "I'm not sure what that is, yet I feel inadequate because I don't feel like I've done what I was put here to do. I don't know what it is, and I don't know how to find out what it is.

"I was born on the wrong side of the tracks, and I spent all my life trying to get on the other side of the tracks. Now that I'm on the other side of the tracks, you know what I found out? The ones on the other side of the tracks are the real people. The dummies I'm with now are the fakers, the pretenders. Real people come from the wrong side of the tracks."

Having lived on Social Security disability since 1973, Joe Latunski considers the sale of the ranch his ace in the hole for a better life. He is unwilling to accept anything but his asking price of $400,000. That is because he wants the easier life that money can bring him and his wife of 42 years, the woman he affectionately calls "Ma."

Reflecting on the times of his life, he said softly, "You know what I want? For once, just once, I want to be able to buy something real expensive for Ma without looking at the price tag."

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