Saturday, December 2, 2023

On the Poverty-Stricken North Coast, Drivers Are Paying the Highest Prices for Gas in the Nation

A gas station in Hopland [Picture by Matt LaFever]

As the price of gasoline climbs, California’s North Coast finds itself uniquely positioned to feel the squeeze. With a population steeped in poverty who often live in far-flung rural places requiring personal vehicles and extended commutes, our communities are set to experience acute economic stress unlike any in the nation.

The average price of gasoline in the United States is currently the highest in history at $4.61/gallon. For an average Californian, now paying $6.13/gallon, the nation’s highest average gallon of gas sounds like a relief.

AAA’s gas price map indicates California’s North Coast has some of the highest average gas prices in the nation. Humboldt and Del Norte Counties are averaging around $6.55/gallon, Sonoma County averages $6.35/gallon, and Marin County is currently at $6.41/gallon. 

The notable outlier on the North Coast is Mendocino County, currently averaging $6.04/gallon, a price closer to much of California’s Central Valley.

A report published by the US Census Bureau in September 2021 revealed that California has the highest average poverty rate of any state with 15.4% of residents falling beneath the poverty line. The District of Columbia was the only location in the US with higher than California at 16.5%.

Patriot Gasoline in Cooks Valley yesterday [Picture from Melissa Bradley]

At this moment, the state with the highest number of impoverished residents is also the state with the highest price for gasoline.

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The California counties paying the most for gas fall within two categories: urban areas with robust economic opportunities for their residents or rural counties with limited economic opportunities. One of those groups is more equipped to adapt to these prices than the other. 

As per data from the US Census Bureau, 14.3% of Mendocino County live in poverty,  15.8% of Humboldt County’s residents live in poverty, and Del Norte has the most impoverished residents at 18.5%. Trinity County stands at 18%. In fact, every California county north of the 40th parallel has at least 13% of its residents living in poverty. 

Leggett resident Melissa Bradley told us that despite limiting her trips to save on gas and trying to save money in other ways, the rising prices of gas, groceries, and PG&E leave her living paycheck to paycheck. 

She posted a picture of the gas prices at Cooks Valley’s Patriot Gas where a regular gallon of gas was $6.79/gallon. 

One commenter said, “Insane.” Another said, “Oh my gosh!!! You have got to be kidding!!!!!!” 

Roger Gitlin, a retired county supervisor in Del Norte County, posted a picture of a Chevron in Crescent City where the regular gallon of gas was $6.85. He said he monitors the prices at that particular station and it is now the most expensive in Del Norte County.

As residents of the North Coast feel the financial strain, so are government budgets. Mendocino County’s 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams described the county’s current fiscal trajectory: “Costs are rising on a curve steeper than revenue growth.” He said the county is projected to take in less revenue in the upcoming year, but“the greater risk to maintaining service delivery is the inflating costs, including fuel.” With a possible financial storm on the horizon, Supervisor Williams said the county is exploring how to bolster its revenue stream including sales tax, property tax, and bed taxes. Most of which will also hit low-income residents hard.

Chevron in Crescent City [Picture by Roger Gitlin]

As gasoline rises, interest in electric vehicles has increased, so much so that they are now regionally in short supply. Dan Sevier, a salesperson at Ukiah’s Thurston Auto Group, said that dealerships all around Northern California are seeing a rise in demand which cannot be met with the current supply. “When gas prices go up, fuel-efficient cars are all anybody wants, even non-hybrid cars like the Civic and the Corolla are very hard to come by,” Sevier told us

Sevier has worked with many customers whose entire goal with their new vehicle is to save money on gas. With the price of today’s gasoline, Sevier told us, “Somebody who is driving a full-size truck can save enough money in gas to make a car payment and buy gas for a compact.”

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Public transportation, often another suggested solution to climbing gas prices, is in short supply in California’s far-flung north as compared to its urban areas. For many living in outlying areas, the bus systems of our rural highways do not meet our transportation needs.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 20% of America’s rural residents have no access to intercity bus transportation and 59% have no access to intercity rail transportation.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law specifically carves out space to address rural America’s transportation needs including providing $10.8 billion to rural communities for bus transportation, $300 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, $40 billion for bridge enhancement, and others.

But, plans out of Washington D.C. feel hollow as so many on the North Coast watch prices rise faster than wages. A person can only cut so many corners and live on a shoestring for so long.

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  1. “Supervisor Williams said the county is exploring how to bolster its revenue stream including sales tax, property tax, and bed taxes.” Tax the poor! Wonderful solution to impossibly high gas prices. Explore this: Mendocino county liberal progressives voted overwhelmingly for Biden. Biden in, gas up. Williams speaks, taxes up. Isn’t the definition of a fool voting for the same dumb thing over and over again?

    • You make it sound like the president sets the price for gasoline. Maybe you should look at the profits garnered by the oil companies during this price gouging. They set the prices for their products!

      • Biden shut off pipelines, limited oil leases and admits it just part of the pain in going green.
        But libs hate capitalism and want a Venezuelan style government

      • The President put a stop to oil leasing, fracking, and a major pipe line from Canada the day he went into office. Before Biden we were exporting oil. Do you recall the price of gas then or where you sleeping.

  2. Add the cost of fuel to the cost of internet, satellite TV and phone service and you see that rural residents are at a big financial disadvantage.

  3. Look people, this is NOT about a war in Ukraine, it’s not about crude oil “supply line issues”, it’s not about ANYTHING but Corporate profits, and greed! Plain and simple! Money bags “Joe Biden” said it himself, in his “state of the union address”, “we supply 90% of our own energy consumption needs” (rewatch the address), so that WAR isn’t a factor since we import less than 5% of our crude oil! PETROLEUM CORPORATOONS have enjoyed RECORD QUARTERLY PROFITS for over 10 years now, BILLION DOLLAR BONUSES for CEO’s, and on the backs of WHOM? US, the general public! Stop them in their tracks, QUIT BITCHING ABOUT IT, and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! TELL THEM WE’VE HAD ENOUGH!

  4. It’s higher here in Nevada County $6,36 Land of the increasing homeless. WE CANT Effort to live here anymore to live anywhere anymore we can’t afford to go We need to go to get cheaper groceries and order Sometimes having to pay $15 for vultures in your cup your cup! This is an atrocity paying for the sins of our government in the misuse of Taxpayers dollars for all these years While the rockefellers got richer and the peak As did all the people in our California government Who are all tied in with Washington DC What do we to do? $400 for a gas From our California government what to do well what happened to the $2000 per person per month that’s what we really need people canpeople can’t even afford to go to work in the child care situation thanks spider you really didn’t do anything people are waiting for years on the list to get daycare to go to work this is an atrocity it’s an atrocity I’m embarrassed of our country in the way that it takes care of its people and what they spent The taxpayers dollars on All of these years! Nothing good let me tell you

  5. Biden did that not Putin, shut off supply and punish the poor peons for the Greenie agenda.
    Don’t worry Gavin plans to give you a pittance of a gas tax rebate in October just before the elections.

  6. Biden shut off pipelines, limited oil leases and admits it just part of the pain in going green.
    But libs hate capitalism and want a Venezuelan style government

    • How many petroleum products are in the things you use daily including your bike?
      Did you build your bike using only wood products and no electricity?
      How does the food, seeds, products get delivered to your home town grocery store or residence? Are they all transported by bicycle?
      You have no stress at the inflated prices for food and medicine.?
      The Post Office, UPS and Fed x never deliver goods to your home?
      Do workers just fly over to your house on eco-friendly witches brooms?
      Yes you do buy gasoline in the price you pay for basics everyday.

      • One cannot escape petroleum use but one can reduce. Trains and bus in America are worse than third world countries public transport. High gas price can help change that.
        In 1978 gas was $5.00 per gallon in Germany and $5.00 per gallon in Japan when I was stationed there in 1979. I saw few muscle cars.

  7. Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
    about one lovely ship
    That ran into an iceberg upon it’s maiden trip
    The lifeboats were very lacking cause they did not feel the need
    To clog the deck with ugly boats
    Try swimming yes indeed
    Swimming yes indeed

    Science can make many rich
    when conflicts are resolved
    Just rid the oceans icebergs
    Our problems are now solved
    Problems are now solved

    With CO2 and logging crews
    Them billionaires running rife
    While movie stars sell ponzi schemes
    With a corporate smile

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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