During his term as a Tracy City Council member from 1990 to 1994, the now-67-year-old studied the feasibility of building a new City Hall at 333 Civic Center Plaza.
The $25 million project would eventually open on April 2, 2007 — just months after Bilbrey finished his sixth two-year term as Tracy’s mayor.
On Tuesday, Bilbrey returned to City Hall, where the main plaza was renamed Dan Bilbrey Plaza in recognition of his 16 years of leadership in city government that included the city’s longest tenure as mayor — a 12-year run from 1994 to 2006.
He also served on the city’s planning commission for two years and was a reserve officer for the Tracy police from 1968 to 1990.
About 50 people — including several members of Bilbrey’s family and current Tracy City Council members and city employees — gathered for the unveiling of a plaque in the plaza in front of City Hall.
“The people of this city treated me very nicely, and they gave everything they could to me,” he said. “Today, I have only taken back a little bit and that’s the way it should be.”
As mayor, Bilbrey played critical roles in the opening of the Tracy Outlets and West Valley Mall; construction of the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts and the Civic Center; renovation of the fire administration building at Ninth Street and Central Avenue; completion of the South County Water Surface Project; and establishment of a city parks system.
“When I left here, everything I did was for the city, and so when I drive around the streets today, the city is like one big trophy to me,” Bilbrey said. “When I drive up and down the streets, these north-south streets like Holly Drive, they hadn’t been paved in I don’t know how long, and we did them all when I was mayor. I drive on all these streets, and I can say, ‘Man, we did that.’”
During the dedication, Mayor Brent Ives, who succeeded Bilbrey in 2006, said Bilbrey’s thoroughness and “visionary leadership” helped the former mayor “represent this city well” during “some very challenging times.”
“As far as this plaza and this place (City Hall), Dan was as instrumental and maybe foundational in what it took to get to this place today, and in this place today,” he said. “It’s so fitting that Dan will be the recipient of a piece of this place and that it will be known as a note in a generation’s future that Dan Bilbrey was an instrumental part of what Tracy is today.”
Leroy Ornellas, former San Joaquin County supervisor for District 5, recalled driving around Tracy several years ago with Bilbrey trying to locate property for a regional park.
The pair would
eventually find 100 acres at the former Holly Sugar plant just north of Tracy. Bilbrey would play a critical role in the purchase of that property.
“It’s not just a park, but it was a regional park, something with significance,” Ornellas said. “I have to thank him so much for his support and his help. It’s a fitting tribute that we honor him.”
Following the service, Bilbrey said he had “loved Tracy since the first time I visited my sister in 1953.”
He moved to town in 1968 following six years of service with the U.S. Air Force medical services during the Vietnam War.
While he didn’t serve overseas, Bilbrey gained valuable experience in medicine, and it led him to take a position at Sutter Tracy Community Hospital. He would retire from the hospital after 40 years of service, which included a stint as director of the hospital’s foundation.
Bilbrey said he learned to appreciate the “sense of community” that residents in Tracy have showed since he first arrived.
“We took care of our own, the people were ready to step forward, and it was a great time,” he said. “I mean it’s still like that here — it’s a different feeling here. It’s care first and give second.”
He felt his biggest accomplishment was getting re-elected as mayor each of the six times he ran for the office.
“It reaffirmed that what I was doing was right and that the people liked what I stood for,” Bilbrey said. “The majority of people in town said that myself and the council were doing the right things, and that always felt good.”
The plaza’s dedication was approved by the Tracy City Council, which must OK by majority vote the renaming of any city property, parks and buildings.
• Contact Joel Danoy at 830-4229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.