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Some Gasp, Some Shrug at Pumps

Times Staff Writers

As crude oil prices soared above $75 a barrel Friday, Southern Californians hoping to save a few pennies on gas were heading in the wrong direction if they were driving toward Beverly Hills.

Premium fuel was priced at nearly $4.05 a gallon at full-service pumps at a wing-shaped service station in the shadow of Beverly Hills’ ornate City Hall tower. Self-serve wasn’t much better: more than $3.82 for 91 octane and $3.25 for 87 octane.

The price is significantly higher than the $3.03 that the Automobile Club of Southern California listed as the average self-serve price in Los Angeles on Friday. But pump panic was the order of the day across Southern California as drivers searched for low prices and lines formed around some service stations that offered the best deals.

In Beverly Hills, drivers of Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and Lexus sedans who pulled up to a quartet of full-service pumps at the landmark, cantilever-roofed station didn’t flinch at paying Rodeo Drive prices.

Beverly Hills clothing executive Roy Robinson ignored the pump’s whirring digital readout as $88.41 worth -- a total of 21.8 gallons of 91 octane fuel -- flowed into his new BMW 750 Li.

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“I didn’t even look. I was running out of gas. What was I going to do?” he shrugged.

Aldo Mata stood with a $100 bill in his hand as his rented Range Rover gobbled $90.13 in gas while a station attendant checked its oil and tire pressure and wiped its windshield.

“I come from Europe. This doesn’t seem that expensive to me,” said Mata, a film production manager from Ibiza, Spain, who is here for a shoot. “You were lucky here that prices weren’t already up. I don’t know why people here are surprised.”

The Range Rover took a cheaper, 89-octane blend. Its full-service price was a fraction less than $3.96 a gallon.

The station’s manager declined to comment on the price structure. One onlooker said a station worker removed the full-service price sign from in front of the station when people started taking photographs of it Friday morning.

“What kind of service are you getting for $4 a gallon?” asked Paul Gonzales, a spokesman for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “If you’re driving a Maserati or a Rolls-Royce, what the heck does it matter? Still, $4 is pretty outrageous.”

Gasoline industry experts said they were not surprised that Beverly Hills and other tony sections of the Westside had the highest prices. The reason is simple: There are people there willing to pay the price.

“Historically, the lowest prices for gas are in the eastern metropolitan area,” Gonzales said. “They have some of the lowest prices of gas around Southern California. In places like Pico Rivera and Whittier and La Habra there’s a lot more gas stations and more of a sense of competition.”

But even in Whittier, saving a few cents was getting harder. Wayne Talbott, 39, settled on an Arco station charging $2.95 a gallon to fill his RV for a weekend family camping trip.

“We used to go camping once a month but we can’t anymore. We can’t afford it,” Talbott said. It was the family’s first camping trip in eight months.

He spent $98.10 in total for his RV, which gets 8 mpg. “I want to keep it under $100.”

Talbott, who owns a plumbing company, said he spends about $200 to $250 a week on gas. When he isn’t working, he tries to ride his Harley, which has a 3.5-gallon tank and gets 100 to 110 miles on a full tank.

“Gas is killing me,” he said.

That was a common sentiment Friday as motorists struggled to adjust after the Auto Club announced that the average price of gas in Los Angeles crossed the $3 mark. Some drivers claimed to have seen stations changing their prices more than once during the day. And lines were forming at the stations with the cheapest prices.

That was the case at the Arco on Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood as motorists tried to fill their tanks before the prices rose once again. Some said they saw the price -- the cheapest was $3.01 -- and decided to gas up even though their cars’ tanks were not close to empty.

Juan Murguia, 50, said he waited for about 10 minutes to get a pump for the middle-priced gas at $3.09 a gallon. “It’s never like this,” he said, pointing to cars waiting four-deep to get to the pump. “Maybe everybody is getting scared.”

At the Costco gas station in Burbank, all 16 pumps were in use Friday at noon and 34 cars were in line waiting to get in.

Auto Club officials predicted that motorists have not seen the end of the price increases. Regular already costs 33 cents a gallon more than last month and 41 cents more than this time a year ago.

Back in Beverly Hills, those willing to shop around -- and leave the city limits -- could find lower prices. But motorists took little comfort in that.

At an Exxon station at Robertson and Olympic boulevards, regular was selling for $3.09.

Kecia Cooper, an actress from Hollywood, spent $20.17 for the 6.5 gallons she pumped into her Mazda. If gas prices keep rising, she may start walking, she said.

“I moved here from Chicago and people do a lot of walking in Chicago. Out here people don’t,” she said. “But we may have to start, and start drinking coffee at home instead of driving over to places like Starbuck’s.”

Behind her, Karen Keen was gassing up her Toyota Prius hybrid sedan with 8.8 gallons costing $27.30. It runs on a combination of gasoline and battery power and gets 50 mpg, she said with a grin.

“I sold my SUV for this car. I actually did the math and figured I’m now saving over $400 a month in gas. I was filling up the SUV every third day,” Keen said.

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Times staff writer Amanda Covarrubias contributed to this report.


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