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Gasoline prices in California edge lower, but $4 a gallon is still widespread

The drop of one-tenth of a penny Friday to $3.966 from the day before is little comfort to motorists in Southern California, where prices seen include $4.29 at a gas station in Santa Monica.

March 19, 2011|Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times

California's average gasoline price eased to $3.966 a gallon Friday, down one-tenth of a penny from the day before, after several days of increases. But there are plenty of $4 signs around the state.

Motorists in the Santa Barbara area are paying the most on average: $4.022 a gallon Friday, up 0.2 of a cent overnight and 1.9 cents higher than a week earlier, according to the daily AAA Fuel Gauge Report. In San Francisco, regular gasoline averaged $4.016 on Friday, down 0.5 of a cent from the day before but up nearly 3 cents from a week earlier, said AAA's survey, based on credit card receipts from more than 100,000 retail outlets around the U.S. and compiled by Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.

Although the Los Angeles average was unchanged Friday at $3.971, some places were charging much more — including a Mobil station in Santa Monica selling self-serve regular for $4.29.

"Where are they doing these price surveys? Because everything I'm seeing around here is $4 a gallon and no one can explain why," said Belinda Scott, co-owner of a West Los Angeles hair styling salon.

Scott, 35, said she considers herself lucky because she can coax close to 40 miles a gallon out of her late-model Mini Cooper under optimal conditions. But optimal light traffic is rare.

"It just makes me angry and leaves me feeling helpless," she said.

Scott isn't alone in her ire. The Consumer Federation of America said a survey found that 79% of respondents were greatly concerned about rising fuel prices and that 75% felt great concern over U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"The great concern about gas prices reflects not just rising prices and political instability in the Middle East, but also adverse impacts on household budgets," said Stephen Brobeck, the Consumer Federation's executive director. "Low- and middle-income Americans are now spending more money each month on gasoline than on their car payments."

Some experts have said that California prices may have peaked. Others weren't so sure, primarily because three of Japan's most important refineries are still shut down after the recent earthquake, prompting a scramble in world markets to replace the losses in gasoline, diesel and heating oil.

"The Japan earthquake, tsunami and now the nuclear plant meltdown are putting uncertainties into the equation," said fuel price specialist Bob van der Valk.

ron.white@latimes.com

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