Former Huntington Beach Mayor Shirley Dettloff, who remained involved until the very end, dies at 89

Shirley Dettoff speaks to the Huntington Beach City Council on Aug. 1, 2023.
Shirley Dettoff speaks to the Huntington Beach City Council on Aug. 1, 2023. Next to her is Elaine Bauer Keeley, the daughter of her late friend and fellow former Huntington Beach Mayor Ralph Bauer.
(James Carbone)

Huntington Beach resident Shirley Dettloff, who was known as a collaborator and stayed involved in city affairs for decades after her time on the City Council, has died.

Her husband, Bob Dettloff, said he found Shirley unconscious at home on Tuesday morning, and she was ultimately unable to be resuscitated. She was 89.

Shirley Dettloff served on the council from 1994 until 2000, including a year as mayor in 1998.


She still routinely attended its meetings and spoke during public comments, worked against homelessness and served as the governing board chair for Fountain Valley Regional Hospital, now known as UCI Health - Fountain Valley.

Concerned with the direction the current City Council majority was taking, she was also recently one of the founders of Protect Huntington Beach.

“She just was involved with every single major issue that I can think of in town,” said Linda Moon, who knew Dettloff for five decades. “She died with her boots on ... I didn’t always agree with her on everything, but she certainly was a tiger, and she died with her boots on. She was planning things that morning [when she died].”

Former Huntington Beach Mayor Shirley Dettloff, center, joins Protect Huntington Beach during a protest on Jan. 16.
Former Huntington Beach Mayor Shirley Dettloff, center, joins Protect Huntington Beach during a protest outside Huntington Beach City Hall on Jan. 16.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Moon moved to Huntington Beach in 1974 and joined the League of Women Voters to find out what was going on in town. She met Dettloff, who was part of a group that had just formed a Bolsa Chica study committee.

That turned into the nonprofit Amigos De Bolsa Chica in 1976, formed to protect and preserve the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Dettloff was a founding member of the Amigos, becoming president and executive director, and also served on the California Coastal Commission.

A UC Santa Barbara graduate and retired teacher, Dettloff served as chair of the Huntington Beach Planning Commission, chair of the Orange County Harbors, Beaches, and Parks Commission and director of the Orange County Sanitation District. She was also heavily involved with the local Boys & Girls Club.

Kay Goddard worked with Dettloff for years on the foundation of the Shipley Nature Center, which also opened in 1974.

“She spent her time to act on her values,” Goddard said. “She had core values of community, embracing people ... and she acted on that. You can say many things about her, but not that she was disengaged. She was right in the middle of everything.”

Shirley Dettloff addresses the Huntington Beach City Council on Nov. 1, 2022.
Shirley Dettloff addresses the Huntington Beach City Council during a study session relating to the city’s housing element on Nov. 1, 2022.
(File Photo)

Dettloff, a Democrat, and fellow former mayor the late Ralph Bauer, a Republican, worked together on the City Council in the mid-1990s to form the city’s Declaration of Policy on Human Dignity. The policy was substantially changed by the current City Council last year.

City Councilwoman Natalie Moser, who worked with Dettloff on the issue of homelessness in recent years, said that Dettloff encouraged her to run for a seat on the council in 2020. She said the late former mayor would almost always call or email her the day after a council meeting to check in.

Moser on Wednesday called Dettloff a tireless advocate who dedicated her life to public service.

“Her leadership extended beyond policies,” Moser said in some remarks she had prepared. “She embodied the spirit of community and compassion that made her a beloved figure well beyond our city limits. As I remember Shirley, I commit to continuing her legacy of service and integrity. She was not just a leader but a beacon of hope and love for all of us. For me, she was a great friend, mentor and third mom. She demonstrated how to live a life. She fought for dignity with principles and values and without partisanship at the forefront.”

Dettloff is survived by her husband of 68 years, Bob, who is 91. She was the mother of three, Rob Dettloff, Sue Bohannan and Julie Snider, and grandmother of Anna Bohannan.

No memorial plans were immediately announced.

Bob Dettloff said his wife took great efforts in her later years to mentor people or organizations who were trying to get involved in environmental or political activities.

“She and Ralph [Bauer] were two people who were not exactly on the same page every time, but they never had arguments,” he said. “They always were able to figure out the best way to solve the problem ... She was dedicated to any activity that made this city look better.”