Why Gas Prices Are So High in California

After breaking a record earlier this month, fuel prices have kept climbing.

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A gas station on Bryant Street in San Francisco had the highest price in the city last week at $5.85 per gallon.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

For so many of us, the upcoming holiday season offers a moment of normalcy in what has been a long and lonely pandemic.

With the protection of Covid-19 vaccines, extended families are planning to reunite after being apart for months, if not years. Couples are meeting their in-laws for the first time, as well as their siblings’ new babies.

One in five Californians is expected to travel 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving, a major jump from the depths of the pandemic last year, according to AAA.

But over the past few weeks, those dreamy itineraries have been complicated by soaring fuel prices.

In California, the average cost of a gallon of gas is currently $4.71, the highest in the nation. A few weeks ago, the prices here broke a record that was set in 2012 and have only continued to inch up since.

The coronavirus deserves much of the blame. Gas production fell when demand plummeted last year amid stay-at-home orders, and it hasn’t caught up as commuters and tourists return.

Nationwide, the average cost of a gallon of fuel is $3.41, compared with $2.11 at the same time last year. In other words, our much-anticipated road trips have gotten roughly 50 percent more expensive.

Over the weekend, my colleagues published a story about Americans who are canceling vacations and rejiggering their budgets to cope with pain at the pump.

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Keith Crawford, 57, filling up his Kia Optima last week, said he had started buying smaller amounts of gas twice a week to soften the blow to his bank account.Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Kellen Browning, a New York Times reporter based in San Francisco, interviewed drivers in the city’s NoPa neighborhood who were lined up at an Arco charging $4.49 a gallon. In other parts of the city, prices have reached as high as $5.85.

Bay Area residents told Browning that they had started targeting certain gas stations to try to save a few bucks, or filled up small amounts at a time to soften the blow to their bank accounts.

Browning himself avoids filling gas in the city when he can. He knows there are cheaper stations along I-80 on the way to Davis, where he often travels to visit his family.

“I try to time it so that my tank is close to empty near one of those places,” he told me. “When my colleagues on the East Coast were reporting on people’s frustration with gas prices that were between $3.50 and $4, that sounded like an absolute steal.”

Last week, President Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether oil and gas companies were engaging in “illegal conduct” that was driving up prices. Some polling data links the president’s low approval ratings to high fuel costs.

Here in California, hefty taxes have long made gas prices the highest in the nation. But fuel got even more expensive after an atmospheric storm pummeled Northern California last month.

The heavy rains inundated oil refineries with water, which affected gas production in the region, The Los Angeles Times reported. The subsequent cost increases then trickled south to the rest of the state.

Browning told me that some Californians he spoke to said the high gas prices had made them more willing to buy electric cars. Others said it had persuaded them to do all their holiday shopping online.

Some blamed Gov. Gavin Newsom, OPEC, inflation or Biden for their significantly lighter wallets after filling up their tanks.

“But overall, I would say the theme was a general resigned frustration and confusion about why they had to pay so much,” Browning said. “At this point, if I can find gas under $4.50 per gallon, I think of it as a good deal, sadly.”

For more:

See the average gas price in your county and which state has the cheapest gas.

Coronavirus cases are rising, but officials have stopped telling people to skip celebrations.

How health experts are thinking about the holidays.

Just how bad could California’s winter coronavirus surge get?

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George Gascon, the Los Angeles County district attorney.Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

If you read one story, make it this

George Gascon is remaking criminal justice in L.A. How far is too far?

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Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, entering federal court in San Jose, Calif., earlier this month.Credit…John G Mabanglo/EPA, via Shutterstock

The rest of the news

Theranos trial: The prosecution in the case against Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the failed blood testing start-up, rested its case on Friday.

And then Holmes herself took the stand.

Jobless rate falls: After a lull in September, California employers bounced back in a big way in October as they added 96,800 new jobs, The Associated Press reports.

Extra cash for caregivers: More than 500,000 caregivers in California will each receive a $500 bonus from the state as soon as January, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Mental health care: A new California law aims to reduce wait times to see a therapist to no more than 10 business days, KQED reports.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Weather warning: Santa Ana winds this week will create high fire danger in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

Shots for minors: Scores of Mexican adolescents were bused across the border to San Diego to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, The Associated Press reports.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

Giant sequoias: Three wildfires in California in the past 15 months killed or mortally wounded 13 to 19 percent of these majestic trees.

Squaw Valley: The U.S. formally declared “squaw” a derogatory word, bolstering activists’ argument that Fresno County’s Squaw Valley community should be renamed, The Fresno Bee reports.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

“Arson spree”: A former university professor has been indicted on charges that he set four wildfires in California this summer.

A changing city: The vivid colors of San Francisco homes are increasingly being replaced by “gentrification gray,” The Guardian reports.

Mask mandate: Amid a rise in new coronavirus cases, Santa Cruz County reinstated its universal indoor mask mandate, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times

What we’re eating

This apple, sweet potato and cheese galette.

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Mount Diablo.Credit…Shutterstock

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Jennifer Russell, who recommends Mount Diablo State Park in the Bay Area:

“On a clear fall/winter day, after some rain, drive to the top of the mountain for the best viewing experience: look to the west, beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Farallon Islands; southeast to the James Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton; south to Mount Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains, north to Mount Saint Helena in the Coast Range; and still farther north to Lassen Peak in the Cascades. North and east of Mount Diablo the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers meet to form the twisting waterways of the Delta. To the east beyond California’s great central valley, the crest of the Sierra Nevada seems to float in space.

All in all, you can see over 8,539 square miles and parts of 40 of California’s 58 counties from the Summit of Mount Diablo.

There’s a handicapped accessible trail at the top and a really fun visitor center. On the way back down the mountain, stop at Rock City for a picnic and take the “Trail through time” marked trail over and around several sandstone caves.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

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Credit…Simone Summers, Photos by Simone

And before you go, some good news

Benjamin Lowell and William Winkelman spent their early dates in San Francisco hiking and skydiving. In many ways, it prepared them to embrace the unknown together.

Read more of their love story in The Times.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Negotiator of collective wages (5 letters).

Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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