Shirley Dean started her civic career in the late 1960s by working with Urban Care, the Berkeley-based organization dedicated to stopping the proposed construction of a large shopping mall on Santa Fe Railroad and other privately owned land on Berkeley’s waterfront . That led to her appointment to Berkeley’s Planning Commission in 1971 and to the original Waterfront Planning Committee which formulated the City’s plan to create a waterfront park that included the privately owned land and the former Berkeley dump. She was elected to the Berkeley City Council on her first try for public office in 1975 and served several terms on the Council until 1982. She returned to the Berkeley City Council in 1986 and served until 1994 when she was elected Mayor of Berkeley, a position she held until 2002.

As Mayor, she worked for the revitalization of Berkeley’s Aquatic Park, construction of the Pedestrian and Bicycle I-80 Overpass connecting people to the Waterfront Park , creation of Cesar Chavez City Park on the waterfront, and the establishment of what was to become McLaughlin East Shore Park under the management of the East Bay Regional Parks District.

She served on the Citizens for East Shore Park Board for several years before being elected as Board President in 2016.