San Diego gas price reaches a new record high

Gas prices are well above $5.00 per gallon at this Hazard Center Auto Mart gas station.
Gas prices are well above $5.00 per gallon at this Hazard Center Auto Mart gas station at Friars Road and Frazee Road in the Mission Valley area on Friday, March 4, 2022 in San Diego, CA.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Motorists are on the hunt for stations with the lowest fuel prices as the latest surge shows no sign of slowing


The average price for a gallon of regular-grade gasoline in the San Diego area blew past the $5 mark for the first time ever Friday morning, reaching $5.10, according to AAA, after an eye-popping, one-day increase of 12.9 cents.

“A double-digit increase in one day is very unusual,” said Marie Montgomery, spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Montgomery said a Kinder Morgan fuel line running from its Watson facility in Long Beach to San Diego shut down Thursday due to a problem during excavation work, interrupting supplies and likely contributing to the price jump. By Friday morning, the line was back in service.

The most recent surge in prices has prompted many motorists, such as 20-year-old Melanie Villaseñor of Chula Vista, to more actively search for gas stations that offer the most competitive prices.

“I was just about out of gas and I turned to my friend and said, ‘We’ve gotta find the cheapest place,’” the 20-year-old said while filling up her Volkswagen. “The commute is long so it’s worth it to scrounge up a little more.”

The Petromerica station on 16th Avenue in East Village was one of the few in the downtown area posting a price below $5 a gallon — offering a cash price of $4.95 a gallon on Friday morning. Station owner Sam Zavaro has noticed customers making a more concerted effort to comparison shop.

“Day after day, the volume of customers here is going up,” Zavaro said.

Gas prices in California and across the country have been on a steady rise for about a year and a half but have soared in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is the world’s third-largest producer of oil, and since the war started on Feb. 24, the benchmark prices in both international and domestic markets have spiked to their highest levels in eight years.

Gasoline prices are tethered to oil prices, and the U.S. average has ballooned by 26.5 cents in the past week to $3.84 a gallon, according to AAA. In California, the average price is $5.07.

Ermias Yohannes of East Village fills up his car at a Petromerica station.
Ermias Yohannes of East Village fills up his car at a Petromerica station.
(Rob Nikolewski/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Whenever Jenna Leathers, an independent contractor in Golden Hill, fills up her Toyota Tacoma she keeps a close eye on finding a station with the lowest price and she avoids areas of town where prices trend higher.

“I can’t afford this gas. I’m waiting to get paid by a client,” Leathers said. “It takes about $80 to fill up my truck,” compared to around $50 before prices went on a tear. “If I were to get gas in La Jolla or something right now, I’m sure it would be a joke.”

Prices in the San Diego area Friday were up 43.8 cents compared to one month ago and 29.2 cents from the previous week.

“Absolutely, I’m shopping around,” Ermias Yohannes of East Village said as he fueled up his car. “Sometimes I go to Costco.”

Warehouse club memberships typically offer lower prices than conventional gas stations and apps from organizations such as AAA and GasBuddy help direct motorists to the cheapest places to fill up, which can be especially helpful considering the wide variance in prices in Southern California.

For example, while it was not unusual to see stations advertising prices in the mid-$5 range on Friday, GasBuddy pointed to an Arco station on Grand Avenue in Escondido that posted a cash price for regular of $4.23.

Montgomery of the Auto Club pointed out things drivers can do to improve their gas mileage, such as avoiding jack rabbit starts, stopping abruptly, driving too fast and properly inflating their tires — measures that can enhance fuel economy by about 30 percent, she said.

Gas prices are well above $5.00 per gallon at this Mobil gas station.
Gas prices are well above $5.00 per gallon at this Mobil gas station along Mission Center Road in the Mission Valley area on Friday, March 4, 2022 in San Diego, CA.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I think a lot of people need to be more thoughtful about their trips,” Montgomery said. “Make sure they are not just running to the grocery store for one thing. Try to make sure you’re combining your errands.”

Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, does not expect to see prices flattening anytime soon, with the fight for Ukraine grinding on and many states including California initiating their annual switch from winter-blended fuel to the more expensive summer blend. Summer grades cost more because of the oxygenates required in the fuel, and refineries have to briefly shut down before processing it.

“Most of what we’re seeing the last couple of weeks has really been fueled, I would say, 80 percent by Russia, 20 percent by the changeover” to summer fuels, DeHaan said. “Most California cities will likely continue and get closer to $5.25 (a gallon) in the next week. We could eventually see California going to $5.50.”

To give California drivers some financial relief, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed suspending the upcoming inflation-adjusted increase in the state’s gasoline excise tax, which is estimated to save about 3 cents per gallon, and backfilling the difference by using some of the state’s $45.7 billion budget surplus. However, leading Democrats in Sacramento have not warmed to the idea.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, has introduced a bill that would suspend the entire excise tax — which comes to just over 50 cents per gallon — for six months.

San Diego civil rights activist Shane Harris sent a letter to Newsom on Thursday calling on the governor to declare a state of emergency and suspend the gas tax to help “people who are struggling from check to check.”

“Let’s figure out the best strategy going forward and right now, I think that a state of emergency will give some immediate relief until the Legislature and the governor come together,” said Harris, president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates. “You have real people who are hurting in these communities who are worrying about how to pay next month’s rent.”

Skyrocketing gas prices may lead more drivers to consider the switch to electric vehicles.

“I am definitely thinking about getting a Tesla,” said 23-year-old Skyler Sims as he topped off the tank of his Dodge Challenger. “They don’t need as much maintenance, and of course the price of gas is definitely a factor, and I just think they’re cool.”

The most recent figures released by the California New Car Dealers Association showed sales for zero and low-emission vehicles keep rising across the state, with combined registrations of hybrids and electric vehicles accounting for 23.4 percent of market share.

“There’s so much more uncertainty because of the situation in Ukraine and we’re facing inflation everywhere,” said Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights at the auto market research firm “You couple all those things together, you have people thinking, is there some way I can save money?”

But global supply chain bottlenecks and a chronic shortage of microchips that modern cars are increasingly reliant upon have led to a shortage of new vehicles. The inventory problems affect not only conventional cars and trucks but hybrid and electric vehicles too.

“A lot of these cars are already spoken for,” Drury said.” The latest crop of EVs (electric vehicles), a lot of them were pre-ordered ... so even if you’re thinking about it, you might not be able to go full EV right away but you might get your hands on a hybrid.

“Unfortunately, you’re probably going to end up paying a premium for that hybrid because there’s a price discrepancy because of the chip crisis.”