City Lights: Former mayor's name etched into H.B. history

The small gray sign points out at passing cars on Newland Street, bearing a name and a few dates that imperfectly summarize a life of service.

For future generations, the text will provide the basics: Bauer Park, named after Ralph H. Bauer, mayor in 1997 and a councilman from 1992 to 2002.

A historian may be needed, years from now, to add that Bauer helped to create Huntington Central Park and half a dozen schools, that he helped to unify the city's religious leaders, and that his work on behalf of human rights led humanist authors from around the world to visit Surf City.

If nothing remains in the public mindset except the sign, it at least ensures that Bauer's name will be branded on Huntington Beach. As well it should be.

Friday morning, I met with Bauer at the park the city recently dedicated to him at 21401 Newland St. It's a handsome piece of property, squared off by black gates and featuring shaded picnic tables, a basketball court, a large play area for kids and plenty of green space.

Bauer, who lives in Huntington Harbour, is celebrating a number of milestones. He turns 82 on July 2 and recently observed his 60th wedding anniversary. On June 16, he attended the park's opening ceremony with city officials and current and former council members. He jokes that the park was an anniversary gift for his wife.

The city developed the 2-acre park as an open space requirement for the Pacific Shores residential development. The Park Naming and Memorials Committee, a subsidiary of the Community Services Commission, chose Bauer for the namesake because he was the city's oldest living former mayor.

How big a milestone is the park for Bauer? He certainly appreciated the recognition when I spoke with him. But he added that the thought of the park being renamed years from now wouldn't keep him awake at night.

"Naming anything after you is not relevant to anything," he said, very much without bitterness. "It just happens. With the good things you do, it's the act that's the reward. It's the people affected that's the reward."

Reading Bauer's biography, it's hard to imagine that he can go many places without spotting his legacy. Since moving here in 1964, he's served on the Planning Commission, Historic Resources Board, Pier Design Committee and other groups. He also served on two school boards before the City Council and played a part in opening Golden View School, Mesa View Middle School and other campuses.

What is he proudest of? With Huntington Central Park, the new park and the schools tied to his name, Bauer can lay claim to a lot of real estate. But when I posed the question, he mentioned a pair of social movements instead.

One was helping to found the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council, which encourages collaborations among faiths. The other was co-authoring "A Declaration of Policy About Human Dignity," the document that spawned the city's Human Relations Task Force after Huntington was hit by a series of hate crimes.

The task force in turn spawned HB Reads, the annual program in which people across the city read a book about diversity. As I recall, that was the first time I met Bauer — there in his living room by the harbor as the Lost Boys of Sudan sampled hors d'oeuvres and shared their impressions of America with a sympathetic crowd.

Will HB Reads also spawn something bigger? It could. The beauty of starting a movement is that its momentum can go on indefinitely, long past the memory of the person who got it rolling.

And sometimes, carved in stone above the sidewalk, a sign can preserve that memory too. Even in a few words and a handful of dates.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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