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As gas prices soar, Californians test life above the $4-a-gallon mark

Gas prices that have already surged beyond $4 a gallon are forcing California consumers and business-owners to cut back and try to make do with less.

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“We only have three cars and we’re family owned so we can’t lay anyone off. We’re barely making enough money to pay our bills.”

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From messenger services to pizza deliverers, anyone who burns fuel to get to their market is being hit hard by the high prices and trying to pass them on to their customers.

“We’re trying to get our customers to pay a surcharge, and they are screaming that they can’t pay it and will go elsewhere,” says Rick Lutrel of the family truck firm. “We are looking for ways to band together.”

The Automobile Club of Southern California meanwhile says that the price of regular fuel is 19.4 cents higher than a week ago and 51.4 cents higher than a year ago. Prices have increased 14 straight days and 26 out of the last 27, they say.

Spokeswoman Marie Montgomery told the L.A. Daily News she is optimistic that the spikes could signal an early peak in seasonal prices that might lead to a sooner decline.

“Hopefully that peak comes early,” she said. “Generally speaking we see the peak of L.A. prices in May. We started a little earlier this year and maybe we’ll peak a little earlier.”

Others say they can’t wait for a price drop any more and are changing their vacation plans.

“We usually take a big family trip, but now we’re just going to stay home and go to the beach a lot,” says Becky Chastain, playing a video game on her iPhone in the front seat of her mother’s Volvo XC 90 at a Sherman Oaks gas station.

Ms. Chastain says her mom went inside the station to pay the cashier to save the obligatory 45-cent fee for using an ATM card. She says she understands that prices are soaring because Iran announced on Monday they would stop selling oil to England and France.

“I know Iran threatened to shut the Straits of Hormuz, which is the passage for one-fifth of the world’s oil,” says Chastain. “And I’m embarrassed to say I had to get out a world map to see where that was.”

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