San Pablo, Calif. program removes tattoos, instills job search skills

Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo Economic Development Corp., makes sure a client's paperwork is in order.

Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo Economic Development Corp., meets with a client.

San Pablo, Calif. is the latest city to set up a tattoo removal program.  Although small in size with a population of roughly 29,000, this San Francisco East Bay suburb has big intentions to help disenfranchised people, including many ex-offenders, find employment.

The program, Removing Barriers, is a joint venture between the 10-month-old San Pablo Economic Development Corp., the city of San Pablo and San Jose, Calif.-based nonprofit New Skin Adult Tattoo Removal.

Launched four months ago with monthly four-hour tattoo removal clinics operated by New Skin, Removing Barriers has served about 60 people so far, and anyone over 18 years of age can get their tattoos removed. San Pablo residents pay $50 and nonresidents $75 for a treatment session for up to seven tattoos.

The program will be expanded this fall with job readiness training, according to Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo EDC. The job training will consist of two months of twice-weekly classes that include sessions on such things as resume writing and interview role-playing. Participants will also create a master application as part of the program, since Choy hears from employers that some people aren’t hired, because they didn’t complete applications properly. (You can find an example of a master application on the Berkeley Adult School website.) An additional four weeks will focus on money matters.

“We will concentrate on fiscal responsibility, financial management and helping people understand that there are ways to eliminate ATM and check-cashing fees,” she says. “We’re working with nonprofit Community Financial Resources, which has a curriculum dealing with this. One of the things we’d like to do for San Pablo residents who complete the curriculum is reimburse a certain amount of the fees they’ve paid for tattoo removal through a prepaid debit card.”

The Removing Barriers program has no requirements. “Participants don’t need any qualifications, just interest and commitment,” says Choy. “Anybody can come.”

The first class cohort, however, will be limited to 23 participants, but the program may be expanded to two cohorts early next year.

The San Pablo EDC also hopes to include a job-experience component in the program. It is working with the city’s public works department, Lao Family Community Development and other organizations to be able to provide one- to two-week internships. “This will give a bit of experience and a professional reference for those who haven’t been in the workforce for a substantial amount of time,” Choy says.

Funding for Removing Barriers comes from Measure Q that was passed by voters last June and went into effect in November. The measure increased the city’s sales tax one-half cent for five years and then a quarter cent for another five years. Some of the money raised goes to job training and public safety. While most of the funding for Removing Barriers will come from Measure Q, there is also some money from the EDC, and it is pursuing grants and other funding as well.

The program will be staffed by EDC and San Pablo city employees, along with a handful of volunteers, including one from Junior Achievement.

“This is a labor of love. The staff is passionate about it,” says Choy. “The opportunity to help people feel that they might be more accepted within their community (by having their tattoos removed and gaining employment) is inspiring.”


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