May 10, 2006

Gas cost is no concern in Beverly Hills

By Bernie Woodall

BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) - A couple of
attendants washed the windows, checked the tires and pumped
$4.299-a-gallon premium into a behemoth Cadillac Escalade as
digit counters zoomed toward $100.

"I don't even look at the price," said the SUV driver,
Michele Best of Beverly Hills, at the full-service pumps of a
throwback gas station with very modern prices.

"Don't tell my husband."

Across from Beverly Hills City Hall, the Union 76 outlet is
known as the "Station of the Stars" because movie icons like
Jimmy Stewart and Jimmy Durante filled up there in the 1950s.

"It's $98.55, for 22.9 gallons," said Best. "But I conserve
by not driving much. I only drive a little and always in my
neighborhood. You'd have to be rich to drive to work."

One need not be in tony Beverly Hills to experience sticker
shock at California gas pumps, even at the cheaper self-serve

Wednesday's U.S. national average gasoline price was $2.89
a gallon for self-serve regular, according to the AAA motor
club, down a cent from Tuesday.

But as retail prices cooled a little last week over most of
the country, California's kept rising.

A month ago, the difference between California's price for
regular and the national average price was less than 14 cents.
On Wednesday, the car-happy state was 42 cents more expensive
than the national average, the Web site said.

Strict environmental regulations, the lack of a pipeline
connection to Gulf Coast refineries and high taxes help keep
California's gasoline price aloft.


Drivers often curse high pump prices, but retailers have a
smaller profit margin than crude producers, refiners, or
commodity funds that profit by pushing up futures prices, said
Dale Boyett, president of Modesto, California-based independent
fuel wholesaler and retailer Boyett Petroleum.

Boyett says Big Oil is getting its share, but energy has
become "the latest Internet bubble ... and it makes no sense.
It's not tied to the (supply-and-demand) fundamentals."

The United States imports 60 percent of its oil needs and
there is always a fear element in the market, because of the
hot spots that produce oil, he said. This month it's Iran. Next
month it may be Venezuela or Nigeria.

"I don't know how to stop it, unless the market falls and
everybody loses," he said.

As the Cadillac Escalade in Beverly Hills filled up for
almost $100, a Venezuelan cab driver this week filled his 1976
Chevy Nova for $2.30 at only 12 cents per gallon.

And in much of Europe, high taxes result in double the U.S.
gasoline price.

The landmark Union 76 station in Beverly Hills with the
picturesque saddle-style awning over its gas pumps doesn't even
have the area's highest prices. showed regular self-serve at $3.92 a gallon at
a station near Interstate 5 in northern Los Angeles.