Good jobs, bad air

Your first job: Bites first caught a glimpse of the New Irony during a 1980s visit to a food-stamp office. Housed in a windowless basement, the sickly yellow walls were brightened by nearly a dozen travel posters, all promoting European getaways well beyond the reach of anyone there.

Of course, we’ve come a long way since then. Or have we? Witness “My First Job,” California’s latest government campaign to make impoverished people feel good about their situations.

Launched during Labor Day weekend, the “My First Job” campaign is featured at the top of the California Employment Development Department’s home page ( It features profiles of successful people—from Carol Burnett to Cristina Mendonsa—whose current celebrity, wealth or accomplishment belies their humble beginnings.

“Even though a person’s first job may be humble,” we learn, “through hard work and determination, they can succeed.” Need proof? News10 anchor Mendonsa started out cleaning the bathrooms and seating area of a McDonald’s at age 14, and John D. Dunlop III went from 16-year-old fry cook at Tastee Freeze to current president and chief executive officer of the California Restaurant Association. Dunlop’s secret? “Being ready and eager to work, dressing appropriately to represent my employers well, and to be on time for work.”

Now, if all this sub-Dale Carnegie shtick works for you—if you can find inspiration, solace or motivation in it—then, by all means, skip to the next item. What follows will not help you.

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The problem, of course, is that the site’s captive audience—folks on unemployment—are not looking for their first job. By definition, they’ve been there and done that, perhaps decades ago. Do the EDD folks really think the testimonials of 29 successful people will somehow make an economy with virtually no job opportunities seem more hopeful?

In the end, the “My First Job” profile that rings truest comes from San Francisco Giants pitcher Scott Eyre. Working in an Alpha Beta grocery store at age 17, Eyre learned just one thing: “It is hard to do the same thing day in and day out.” Munchkins win clean-air bill: Though everyone’s focused on Arnold orgies, the entertainment continues under the Capitol dome. Example: The drama surrounding Senate Bill 700, a clean-air bill by maverick Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter.

The bill to end pollution exemptions for farms got a predictably cold reception from the powerful ag lobby—but also from enviro-friendly urban Democrats like Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who suddenly embraced poor farmers.

When the bill stalled, Florez charged lower-house Democrats with keeping it off the floor so freshman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, wouldn’t have to vote on the controversial measure. Parra barely won last year and is vulnerable next year, so her support would be ammo for opponents.

“I didn’t come to Sacramento to drink scotch and smoke cigars,” Florez wrote in a testy letter to Yee, Parra and other skeptics. The jab refers to embarrassing news photos of Parra, his longtime nemesis, puffing away on the Assembly balcony during the all-night budget session.

Last week, Florez got creative, busing in 25 asthmatic kids who wheeze under his district’s brown skies. At a press conference, they stood on stage with Florez while ag-industry suits observed from the back of the room.

Yee’s chief of staff, Juan Thomas, also dropped in. As Thomas left, Florez press secretary Jennifer Hanson overheard him mutter that the kids were “too old,” prompting her to follow him out and ask him if he meant “too old for your members to care or too old for them to breathe?” Ouch.

Afterward, the kids visited Capitol offices, armed with balloons tied to notes urging support for Senate Bill 700. Then, three kids pulled Yee out of a floor session to lobby him personally. But no dice.

When Yee said his son has asthma, Jasmyn Murphy, 10, shot back that Yee’s son lives in San Francisco, not Fresno.

“[Yee] still wouldn’t change his mind,” Murphy huffed after the encounter. “He didn’t listen to me. I think he’s just trying to be stubborn.”

The munchkin lobbyist, however, prevailed. Yee changed his mind the next morning in committee. Weepily noting that “the hard feelings on the part of the agricultural community is not something I can just wipe away,” Yee voted aye, as did enough others to send Senate Bill 700 to the floor.