Around town:

Bye-bye, Auto Club

July 24, 2008|By Anita Susan Brenner

On Dec. 13, 1900, the Automobile Club of Southern California was founded in Los Angeles. Back then, motoring was a rich man’s sport. Elegant. Romantic. Adventurous.

The Automobile Club of Southern California catered to the early road warriors. Its mission was to foster road improvement and improve traffic laws. Two years later, in 1902, the American Automobile Association was formed and the Automobile Club of Southern California became an early affiliate.

In the years that followed, the “Auto Club” hired cartographers to survey the state’s roads. It produced accurate maps and created and installed uniform signage. Until the 1950s, all the highway traffic signs in California were installed by the Auto Club.


Last week, the California State Automobile Association, an affiliate of the national Auto Club, announced that it will close all three of its call centers in California. Nearly 1,000 jobs will be lost. Their spokeswoman, Cynthia Harris, gave a press statement. She said, “It costs more to do business in California than other states.”

Next year, when Auto Club members call for assistance, insurance or towing services, our calls will be answered by people in Arizona and Oklahoma. Why? It costs less to run a business in Arizona and Oklahoma.

Business owners know that the high cost of doing business in California is a function of taxes, minimum wage requirements, office space and insurance costs. There are other costs, as well. California has the highest sales tax in the nation. Our top income tax bracket is one of the highest in the nation. Then, there’s the cost of living. A lot of people wonder why California has the second highest gasoline prices in the nation. CNN recently interviewed an authority. You guessed it, she worked for the Auto Club. Marie Montgomery, spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California, says the primary reason behind the high price of gas in California is “market segmentation,” a marketing term that basically means California (along with many other states) has developed a “boutique blend” of fuel in a bid to uphold environmental or ecological standards. In California’s case, this blend helps clear the state’s notorious smog.

“We can’t use gas they made for Iowa. We use a special blend with additives in it, an ethanol mix,” Montgomery said. “When you do that, you can only use refineries that make that gas [mix]. The refineries in California are a major supplier, but, when prices are high and there’s not another supplier, we have to go where they make that mix.” I guess California doesn’t “make that mix.” Bye, bye, Auto Club. I’ll call you in Arizona or Oklahoma. Unless the cellphone tax goes up. Or your membership dues increase. The next time I run out of gas, maybe I won’t need a tow. I could hitch it to a horse.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident. E-mail her at">anitasusan.brenner@

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