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Grijalva questions gas prices

December 13, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Councilman Gilbert Grijalva wants the Calexico City Council to find out if gasoline distributors are gouging Calexico consumers.

In Calexico and throughout the Imperial Valley, the price of gasoline is, on average, 30 to 40 cents higher than in other parts of the country, according to gaspricewatch.com, a Dayton, Ohio-based Web site.

As of Wednesday, the average price of gas in the country was $1.07, according to the site. In Calexico the price at a number of stations was pegged at $1.41, $1.35 on the low end.

No new news there.

For decades Valleyites have complained about gasoline prices higher than in other parts of the country.

On Tuesday, Grijalva addressed the City Council.

On Wednesday, Grijalva was asked if the City Council can do anything about the gas prices.

"I think we can check and look into what the actual pricing of it is," he said.

"We should take a look at that because it's out of balance. It's 30 to 40 cents more here than in other areas," he added.

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Harlon Calhoun of El Centro's McNeece Bros. Oil Co. said, "We really don't have any comment."

McNeece Bros. Oil Co. is a Shell jobber. "A jobber goes to the rack and buys fuel and sells it to local stations," Calhoun said.

The one thing he would say on the record regarding prices is, "Most of the pricing is done outside of the Imperial Valley."

The manager of the SoCo 2 gas station on Imperial Avenue in Calexico said the price of gas at his station is set by his San Diego distributor.

The manager, John Caballero, pointed to a blinking computerized monitoring device that he said relays information to San Diego.

Depending on the reading, "They call me and I change the price," he said.

Asked if he has fielded complaints from customers, Caballero said the only complaints he receives are from customers who travel to Calexico from Arizona or Los Angeles.

The majority of his customers, Mexicali motorists, don't mind paying $1.41 a gallon for gas since prices in Mexicali are more than 60 cents per gallon higher on average and the quality of U.S. gas is considered "better."

Actually, "They're real happy," Caballero said.

Meanwhile, across town, Augustin Ortega of Mexicali filled up his car at the Cole Road 7-Eleven store. He confirmed the price of gas in Mexicali was higher. He said it was 22 pesos per gallon.

The manager of the 7-Eleven, Ruben Duran, said there have been fewer complaints about gas prices lately.

A few months ago the 7-Eleven was selling gas for around $2 a gallon.

Duran said the price could drop in the near future to around $1.25 but he laughed when asked if he thought it would go under $1.

"I don't think so," he said.

When asked why, Duran said there is more demand in the Calexico area and transportation costs to get the gasoline here are higher.

Demand at his gas station is especially high on the weekends, he said.

"Mexicali residents shop for groceries at Wal-Mart, fill up here and head back," he said. "Every weekend we're packed."

Grijalva said he wants to make sure customers in Calexico are getting a fair shake.

He said he knows how a gas station could be run because, "my dad used to run an Exxon in Calexico."

When Grijalva was asked if he was just discussing gas prices for political reasons, he laughed and said, "This is more of a consumer concern. I'm paying too much."

Grijalva is running for the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors.

As for solutions to the gas price problem that don't involve the City Council or solar-powered cars, City Attorney Michael Rood said a group of Calexicans could band together and file a class-action lawsuit alleging price-fixing.

However, he cautioned, "That would be very complicated and difficult."

Another idea? He said concerned citizens could complain to District Attorney Gilbert Otero or the state attorney general.

Rood said a couple years ago there was a lot of talk about an investigation into local price-fixing but he never heard what became of that talk.

Calhoun said there have been several investigations on the state level.

"The results of the investigations have determined the price of gas is set by supply and demand," he said.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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