Born in Fresno, Costa is a third-generation family farmer. His grandparents emigrated from Portugal's Azores Islands in the early 20th century. He graduated from San Joaquin Memorial High School (1970) and from Fresno State (1974), where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He worked as a Special Assistant to Congressman John Krebs (1975–76), and as Administrative Assistant to Assemblyman Richard Lehman (1976–78).
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