The gas gouge

Have you noticed the price of gas lately? Maybe not, since we are all most likely rejoicing that it’s come down from its horrendous pinnacle of just over $4 a gallon. But in your travels, do yourself a favor and look around at what other communities are charging. You’ll find that, overall, prices in Sonoma are higher. The question is, why?

Granted, I am an avowed cheapskate in a couple of auto-related things, paying for gas and parking among them. I’ll drive on fumes to save just a couple pennies per gallon and circle the block endlessly to not pay for parking – frugalness instilled in me by my father who would park 25 blocks from NYC’s Metropolitan museum on a gray Saturday in February, making us hike through piles of filthy snow and knee-deep watery slush to while away a wintery afternoon in the cavernous galleries. Anyway, I digress.

This year, my summer road trips have taken me to Lake Tahoe, Calistoga, Napa and even as far east as Washington, D.C. Nowhere else is gas as expensive as it is here in Sonoma. Not even in Calistoga, about as difficult a destination to get to as any. In my mind, when wondering why the Valley’s gas prices are so high, I often chalk it up to distance from Highway 101. Sonoma isn’t really on the beaten path, suppliers having to divert off a main artery to get here. So I think, perhaps that’s why we pay more.

But then I travel to Napa, really not any more accessible from either Highway 80 or Highway 101, and prices there are, on average 10 to 12 cents cheaper. Same story in Calistoga, another 25 miles or so up the road.

So what gives?

For a time, The Sun was publishing gas prices in a feature called the Gas Gauge. Our thinking was that by publishing each station’s prices, we could incite a price war, thus lowering prices. Boy, did it backfire. As the weeks rolled by it started to seem as if the gas stations were eagerly awaiting each Thursday’s edition of The Sun and adjusting prices to match the HIGHEST price as soon as the paper hit the streets. We were doing their homework for them and causing ourselves to be further gouged in the process. We discontinued the feature, needless to say. But still, prices continue to baffle.

On average, Californian’s pay more at the pump than the rest of the country. In March, we even surpassed Alaska and Hawaii, states where fuel is almost always more expensive than anywhere in the U.S. To blame, we have increasingly expensive oil and the fact that environmentally conscious California strives to make clean-burning gasoline, produced by only a few refineries outside the state, according to experts.

But it still doesn’t explain why we are paying more in Sonoma. All cheapness aside, it is something I wonder about as I travel throughout the area. I invite anyone with answers or suggestions to respond.


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