Gas prices along North County’s coastline — from Del Mar to Carlsbad — usually average 10 to 15 cents higher than most areas of San Diego.
However a few days ago, the FOX5 morning news reported that, according to gas-price-watcher website GasBuddy.com, the Berri Brothers gas station in the 1700 block of North Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia had the cheapest gas prices in all of San Diego County. It had been the cheapest for almost a week — $3.50 a gallon for regular.
On September 5, although the station had to raise its prices by 6 cents, it was still 12 cents cheaper than the nearest Costco, less than five miles away; and at least 20 cents cheaper than any of the just-over-the-hill name-brand stations off I-5.
Owner David Berri operates the only gas station on the 25-mile coastal route from La Jolla to just before Vista Way in Oceanside. In the 1970s, there were 25 gas stations on the same stretch of highway.
Berri says, “Gas prices for the independent gas market has been good over the last two years. There’s a surplus of gas.” Berri’s family owns 12 other stations, mainly in Orange County,
Although he says he wants to keep his prices lower than anyone else's, prices at independents fluctuate quicker than the major brands. When supplies tighten up, their prices go up. Yet, when fuel prices start to fall, like the cycle we are in now, independents drive the falling prices, forcing the majors to follow along.
When he opened as a Mobil station in 2007, Berri had a lot of challenges with the city and neighbors. People didn’t want a gas station there, even though the site has been a station for decades — a former Hancock station that closed in the 1970s. (In the 1950s and ’60s, Hancock stations were known for their flamboyant jet-age architecture, as was Leucadia’s. And at the pump, one could dial up seven different qualities of gas, everything from lawnmower gas to racing fuel.)
Several years ago, when Mobil merged with Exxon, the brand became less marketable, according to Berri. Thus, two years ago, Berri changed his onsite convenience store to a 7-Eleven and dropped the Mobil branding earlier this year. “Now everyone is very welcoming,” said Berri.
Many drivers don’t realize that, when pumping at an independent station, it’s a major chain’s surplus gas. The local distributor, located at the tank farm across the street from Qualcomm Stadium, sells its surplus gas to independents at a lower price. Berri says one week he could have Shell’s gas, the next, Chevron’s.
And in California, says Berri, gasoline is so environmentally regulated, there is no such thing as “bad” or “watered down” gas. With computer-controlled, fuel-injected cars, no vehicle manufactured in the past 15 years runs any better or worse on any particular brand of gasoline. Oil companies think it’s all about the marketing; most motorists would say it’s about the price per gallon.
Cost-conscious consumers note that independent stations lead the way on lower gas prices, followed by AM/PM and USA/Thrifty/United Oil stations (same ownership), supermarket stations (if you use their club card), and Valero. Chevron tops the highest per-gallon cost in Southern California, followed by national brands such as Mobil/Exxon, Shell, 76, and Texaco.
Footnote: In high school, this writer and his pals would spend their Saturday afternoons driving up and down the coast road, stopping at gas stations for their “No Purchase Necessary” promotional giveaways — game pieces, glasses, pens, pencils, commemorative coins, and hats.