Dan Bilbrey’s service on the City Council lasted 18 years, including the last 12 years as mayor. It was a period of major development in residential, commercial and industrial segments, and Bilbrey was involved in shaping and shepherding those areas of growth.
When he became mayor in 1994, the city had already embarked on implementing the Residential and Industrial Specific Plans. Bilbrey and members of city councils serving with him carried through with those plans, which, for the first time in Tracy’s history, master-planned and financed city services for those developments. Tracy was ahead of the curve in responding to the pressures of growth, and Bilbrey, as mayor and councilman, was faithful in seeing that continue.
Bilbrey, who conducted council meetings in a calm and even-handed manner, was adamant in insisting that fees generated by development pay for that growth and also provide the city funding for major civic improvements: new police and fire stations, myriad parks, infrastructure for the West Valley Mall and Tracy Auto Plaza, downtown streetscape, the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts, road improvements, Plan C development — with an accompanying contract for Sierra runoff water — and his personal favorite, the new City Hall. There are too many to list everything.
During his tenure, the type of growth — as much balance among residential, commercial and industrial as possible —was generally agreed upon, but the rate of growth became an issue, surfacing when home construction rapidly accelerated in the late 1990s. It was a time with proposals on both end of the spectrum — for increasing the ceiling above 1,200 units per year and for reducing that ceiling. We at the Press had suggested easing back on the growth rate in order to preserve what had been the community’s consensus on growth, but Bilbrey and the City Council decided on staying with the existing limits and opposed two voter initiatives to cut the growth rate in half. We agreed with the mayor and Council, though, in feeling a ballot measure was not the right vehicle to manage growth. Measure A, however, was approved by voters in 2000, and Bilbrey and the City Council agreed to live with it.
Actually, the growth rate became a moot issue after Measure A limitations
required several years without new housing projects and then the housing bubble burst.
Before those impacts on housing projects developed, the city had started stashing funds away to compensate for the lack of development fees.
As a result, Tracy was better prepared than most cities for the hard times. Dan Bilbrey and an alert city staff helped make that possible.
Through numerous contacts with Bilbrey, in his capacity as mayor, we at the Press found him to be open and willing to discuss city issues and programs. His commitment to doing his best for Tracy was obvious.
While city government was central to Bilbrey’s public life and achievements, we shouldn’t forget how important he was to the development of what is now Sutter Tracy Community Hospital. Starting as an ambulance driver in 1967, he assumed greater responsibilities until he became an integral part of the management team that was so important to the hospital during the next three decades.
And, too, later as executive director of the Tracy Hospital Foundation, he made certain the local nonprofit organizations received major grants, essential to their financial stability. Just ask the people at the Boys & Girls Clubs, McHenry House and Tracy Interfaith Ministries how supportive Bilbrey was of their organizations.
Dan Bilbrey is no longer with us, but his legacy of public service is something that should be an inspiration for those who aspire to lead our community in years to come.