Longtime Santa Monica resident Joe Natoli, a candid critic of local government who regularly attended meetings held throughout the city — voicing his staunch but sincere opinions — died Wednesday morning, March 12th, of a heart attack at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. He was 55.
Natoli, always sporting his trademark cap, attended Santa Monica City Council meetings religiously, often offering his perspective on many of the items on the agenda. He did the same at Bayside District Corporation meetings, among others.
“We’re really going to miss him, because he brought a lot of color to a setting that can often times be somewhat dull,” said Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom. “Joe was certainly an opinionated character. Even though he was very vociferous in stating his opinions, he was basically a nice guy. When he wasn’t speaking, he was typically kind and respectful.”
And although Bloom noted that Natoli could get “carried away” at meetings, he represented “a very pure form of expression in the American tradition.”
The youngest of ten siblings, Natoli grew up in Oswego, New York and moved to California in the ’80s.
A man of simple means, Natoli made much of his living through photography, taking publicity photos for individuals, dance troops and acrobatic companies, said lifelong friend Dan Crisafulli, who grew up with Natoli.
Natoli had a large collection of books and had studied handwriting analysis for over a decade.
“Handwriting analysis was probably his biggest love,” said Crisafulli.
Several attorneys even used Natoli’s services to analyze the handwriting of prospective jurors.
Crisafulli said he will remember Natoli as a friend who “always loved to help.”
“It didn’t matter who you were, what you were doing, if he thought he could help you find something you were looking for or needed, Joe was one of those people who always wanted to help do it,” Crisafulli said.
And although Natoli was outspoken, he rarely offered anything about his private life.
“For the past 14 years or so, his life was pretty much the City of Santa Monica,” said Crisafulli. “He took a real interest in the politics of Santa Monica — the Third Street Promenade, the Pier, the people, the businesses, the City Council, who was truly running the city.”
Natoli cared tremendously for the city he lived in.
“He really put his heart into Santa Monica,” said fellow activist Jerry Rubin, who had known Natoli for over a decade. “He was really out there and concerned about the city; he was on top of things. He really loved Santa Monica and he’ll be missed. I’ll miss him a lot. I think people will miss him more than they know at this point in time.”
Rubin said he will remember Natoli for his “very unique, child-like sense of humor.”
Rubin frequently discussed the happenings in Santa Monica over lunch or dinner with Natoli. They would sometimes disagree on things, but always remained good friends.
“In a relentlessly gentrifying city, Joe stepped forward as a salt-of-the-earth voice for working-class folk dismayed by changes to a small town we all love,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown. “Gruff as Joe could be, many of us acknowledged his good heart and will miss him.”
Natoli is survived by two brothers and four sisters.
To honor Natoli, there will be a remembrance before the City Council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 25th, on the steps of City Hall.