As of 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, the U.S. Gas station at 445 W 5th Ave., at the corner of Centre City Parkway in Escondido, sold the lowest-priced regular gas in San Diego County. In fact, for the past few weeks, several of Escondido’s independent stations have been locked in penny-by-penny price reduction to be the lowest in the county.
According to Gasbuddy.com, on the afternoon of December 12, the top ten lowest-priced stations in the county were all in Escondido, with the exception of the Costco in San Marcos, which sat at the number-two spot. A year ago, when prices were falling, Escondido also took the top spot in the county for the cheapest gas.
U.S. Gas customer Bob has been driving down from Ramona once a week to attend a class. He said he realized by gassing up at the Escondido station he’s saving $8 a fill-up over Ramona stations. “There’s a 40-cents-a-gallon difference,” said Bob.
A taxi-cab driver, Rodolpho, said he’s saving a lot of money on the ten gallons a day he purchases. “I usually get it here or one of the other cheap stations around,” he said.
In the heavily regulated California gas industry, there is no difference in quality between brands. Fuel sold by independent stations is surplus branded gas distributed by refiners from the tank farm in Mission Valley, across the street from Qualcomm Stadium.
With Escondido’s high number of independent stations, along with lower priced AM/PM and 7-Eleven stations, one could pass up 25 such stations before finding the lowest priced major branded station — a 76 on South Escondido Boulevard at West 3rd Street, priced 28 cents above U.S. Gas.
Abdo at the OAAI station (only three cents more than U.S. Gas) says the reason Escondido has lower prices is all the independent stations are in competition with each other. “We also know that most of our customers are working in the service industry, and they can’t afford high prices,” said Abdo. “It’s our strategy to attract more business. We want more customers,” he added.
Another reason for the lower prices: the independents are in older stations, abandoned in the 1980s by the major brands when the expected growth along the eastern section of Valley Parkway didn’t occur, due to the cancelation of Highway 78 freeway plans and the Highway 395 section through town being replaced by I-15.
Additionally, in the older buildings, pumps and the convenience stores are not as kept up as the major brands; thus, the cost of doing business (leases, etc.) is less than modern freeway interchange locations now coveted by the majors.
The current downward slide in countywide gas prices started on July 15, averaging a decrease by few cents a day — from a $4.23/gallon high average. Early this year in Escondido, San Diego County residents saw the lowest-priced gas since 2009. For one day, January 16, the Vons station on Centre City Parkway dropped to $2.05 a gallon, just before profit-taking on the world oil market caused gas prices to rise $1.50 a gallon nationwide in less than a month.
Even with oil prices falling to under $40 a barrel, no one is yet predicting that San Diegans will see $2-a-gallon gas, mainly due to a continued Torrance refinery shutdown and Californians paying the highest gas taxes in the country. Yet, several Costcos in Northern California have prices that are currently hovering around $2.10/gallon.
(Ken Harrison is a native of Cardiff-by-the-Sea. He was very active in community politics in his younger years as past president of the Cardiff Town Council. A former radio talk show host, Ken now attends Politicians Anonymous and writes about North County coastal community issues. this story originally appears in The Reader and is being re-printed by permission. For more from Ken, visit http://www.sandiegoreader.com/staff/ken-harrison/)