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California gas prices and the Ukraine crisis

High gas prices at a Chevron gas station in Los Angeles on March 9, 2021.
High gas prices at the Chevron gas station at East Cesar Chavez Avenue and North Alameda Street in Los Angeles on March 9, 2021.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Feb. 24. I’m Justin Ray.

Yesterday, Russia’s intention to escalate its invasion of Ukraine became clear. Soon after Vladimir Putin announced late Wednesday that he would proceed with a military operation, loud explosions were heard outside Kyiv.

It’s not every day that Russia impacts life in California, but I bet you have already noticed how the conflict is impacting the state’s residents.

“The average price paid for a gallon of regular gas across California hit a record high of $4.742 on Tuesday, according to the American Automobile Assn. That figure is the highest in the country and more than $1 higher than the national average, which currently sits at $3.531 a gallon,” The Times reported.

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Unfortunately, things may get worse; some forecasters expect the average price to top $5 a gallon in the near future.

You might be wondering why the Russia-Ukraine conflict is raising gas prices for the state. Here’s what you should know.

Why the latest conflict impacts Golden State gas prices

Russia is the world’s third-largest producer of petroleum and other crude oil, 2020 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show. As you may have heard, President Biden recently announced sanctions on Russia by the U.S. and Europe. Some fear these steps could cause those energy exports to drop.

“As we respond, my administration is using every tool at our disposal to protect American businesses and consumers from rising prices at the pump,” Biden said in an address Tuesday announcing the sanctions. “As I said last week, defending freedom will have costs for us as well, here at home. We need to be honest about that.”

California actually doesn’t import any oil from Russia. As of 2020, the state received 24% of its oil from Ecuador, 23% from Saudi Arabia and 20% from Iraq, according to the California Energy Commission.

But that’s how tricky the geopolitical logistics are. The loss of such a major exporter would shrink global supplies, which could affect the retail price in California.

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Our state has also become more and more dependent on oil imports as we try to move away from fracking, making us more vulnerable to external price swings.

You can read more about the gas prices in California here.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. STORIES

Five leading candidates for mayor of Los Angeles squared off in the first televised debate of the campaign. Stinging barbs were directed at a sixth candidate who didn’t attend — billionaire and civic activist Rick Caruso. But perhaps the sharpest criticism came from the audience, where a small group of protesters jumped to their feet and began shouting down the candidates. Los Angeles Times

A protester is removed from the Los Angeles mayoral debate at Loyola Marymount
A protester is removed from the Los Angeles mayoral debate at Loyola Marymount University.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
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A woman who alleges that she was wrongfully arrested and jailed for 13 days last year is suing police and the city of Los Angeles. “This was an experience that no one should go through, especially a law-abiding citizen,” Bethany K. Farber said in a statement. The Los Angeles Police Department does not comment on pending litigation, said Sgt. Hector Guzman, a police spokesman. Los Angeles Times

A Tarzana couple and family member who operated a massive COVID-19 relief fraud ring have been captured in Montenegro after fleeing the United States, a law enforcement source confirmed to The Times. Los Angeles Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Column: Where’s the love? Here’s why Kamala Harris’ California poll numbers stink. It’s possible to spend a lifetime within the borders of California and never come remotely close to one of its statewide leaders. This helps explain why Vice President Kamala Harris faces such dismal approval ratings among her fellow Californians, reporter Mark Z. Barabak explains. Voters don’t know her well, and “what they do know is largely impacted by “negative publicity Harris has faced as a result of her stumbles in the White House and unsuccessful 2020 run for president.” Los Angeles Times

VP Kamala Harris (then, a senator) speaks at a campaign rally on Feb. 23, 2019.
Sen. Kamala Harris speaks on Feb. 23, 2019.
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

Regretful health officer says she wants to continue leading the campaign against COVID-19. The Press Democrat recently reported that Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase was convicted of misdemeanor reckless driving, an incident involving alcohol. In a statement to the outlet, Mase again expressed her “regrets and apologies,” and said, “I do not believe this incident has interfered in any way with my ability to do my job, nor will it.” Members of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors said they intend to address Mase at the next board meeting on March 1. All five supervisors said they did not find out about Mase’s arrest and conviction until the paper began reporting the story last week. Santa Rosa Press Democrat

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

An 18-year-old man with a history of mental health issues fatally attacked his grandmother with a baseball bat, Chula Vista police said. Adrian Gutierrez was arrested on suspicion of murder in the death of Diana Diaz, 62, according to police Lt. Dan Peak. Gutierrez was holed up in the bedroom, while armed with a knife, for about 10 to 15 minutes until officers talked him into surrendering. San Diego Union-Tribune

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A 19-year-old man sentenced last year to life in prison for murder was killed by two other inmates at a state prison, California corrections officials said Tuesday. Employees at High Desert State Prison in Susanville saw inmates Christopher Dolan and Michael Ellison attack Michael Hastey with manufactured weapons in an exercise yard, officials claimed. SFGATE

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to shed their masks in certain indoor settings in Los Angeles County starting later this week, health officials said Wednesday. Unvaccinated individuals would still need to wear masks indoors. That rule is in place statewide. And places without vaccine verification will remain subject to the county’s standing indoor mask mandate, which applies to all residents regardless of vaccination status. Los Angeles Times

Will you need a fourth shot to keep coronavirus at bay? With Omicron fading and pressure growing to ease mask rules and other pandemic restrictions, there is growing debate among health officials and experts about if or when a second booster shot will be part of the path toward recovery. Here’s what experts say. Los Angeles Times

Syringes with the Pfizer vaccine
Syringes with the Pfizer vaccine at a vaccination center in January.
(Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press)

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Mechanical issues were reported shortly before a police helicopter crashed into the ocean along a California coastline. The Feb. 19 incident claimed the life of a Huntington Beach police officer and sent another to the hospital. “Right now, it appears to be a nose-down descent into the water,” NTSB spokesperson Elliott Simpson previously said. San Luis Obispo Tribune

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Inside California’s cannabis crisis. It is well-known that California has an enormous marijuana market, which reached an estimated $4.4 billion in sales in 2020. But the industry has many issues; small weed farmers are struggling with oppressive regulations, high taxing and bureaucracy. “I have to leave home for periods of time because our farm isn’t gonna make it. I come back and I take all the money I’ve earned to pay taxes and fees on cannabis, because it’s not even paying for itself, you know? So it’s pretty depressing,” one Northern California farmer told the reporter, who happens to be named Mary Jane Gibson. Rolling Stone

For the record: I told you about the tragic death of a man who was stabbed over 140 times in Palm Springs. Well, it turns out that would be Palm Springs, Fla. Sorry about that!

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Sunny 62 San Diego: Sunny 60 San Francisco: Overcast 54 San Jose: Sunny 60 Fresno: Sunny 59 Sacramento: Overcast 58. Wait what? And he never corrected us??!?!

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Bonnie St. James:

When I was 11 years old in 1962 my family moved from Tucson to Buena Park. It was all dairy farms, strawberry fields and orange groves. Orange County! I loved the smell of the country, orange blossoms and also the cows at our neighboring dairy farm. So for Christmas my beloved brothers filled a shoebox with cow manure, wrapped it up in Christmas wrap and a bow and gave it to me for Christmas! In the 6th grade my best friend Brenda and I would walk a mile to school past the farmlands on the highway, with the big produce trucks barreling down the road. We loved to do a two arm pump to get the truck drivers to honk their horns for us! We would also walk to Knott’s Berry Farm where there were no fences, no admission fees and we could just walk around, look at boys, and watch the gunfights in the street and the dancehall girls dance on the bars. Innocent times at only 12 years old.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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