$13K Gas Bill Cripples Chinatown Eatery as Energy Prices Soar Across CA

Chinatown’s Hop Woo fears one gas bill will shut it down as outrageous energy costs threaten businesses and residents throughout the state

Natural gas bills are crushing bank accounts and offending common decency across the Golden State as December’s high-flying prices are coming home to roost. Reports of individuals receiving outrageous bills have circulated in recent days, but some reports are more especially shocking.

Hop Woo Restaurant in Chinatown recently received a nasty surprise when its owner opened a bill for nearly $14,000, more than double what the BBQ and seafood restaurant on North Broadway normally pays.

Judy Cen told NBC LA that her family has owned the restaurant for 30 years, having run it along with her husband until he passed away recently, leaving her alone at the helm. Now, Cen’s unsure if she’ll be able to keep her doors open after dishing out $13,656.25.

According to the bill, which Cen’s daughter, Mary Liang, posted on Instagram, the restaurant’s unnamed provider charged them $3.44892 “per therm”—a measurement of heat consumption via natural gas—compared to 1.05329 the previous month.

Cen said the restaurant’s bill tends to be $5,000-$6,000.

Hop Woo, however, is by no means alone as reports of skyrocketing gas bills pop up across the state. Brent Eldridge of Long Beach recently received a bill for $907.13, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“It made me want to puke,” Eldridge, a pastor, told the Times.

Other homeowners have reported bills of over $2,000 and SoCalGas said that the average bill in January was $300.

The unfettered surge in the cost of natural gas has caught the attention of Governor Gavin Newsom. In a recent letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Newsom requested the agency “focus its investigatory resources on assessing whether market manipulation, anticompetitive behavior, or other anomalous activities are driving these ongoing elevated prices in the western gas markets.”

According to the Times, the wholesale cost of natural gas was 300 percent higher in December compared to January 2022, but prices have fallen since.

“The first message is: Don’t panic,” Gillian Wright, senior vice president and chief customer officer of SoCalGas told the Times. The company has had a 15 percent increase in customer service calls this year. “We are not disconnecting customers,” Wright assured. “We don’t plan to resume any disconnection of customers until much later. And second, there are options, and we can find solutions.”

SoCalGas and PG&E both claimed to the New York Times that do not profit from rising gas costs, that whatever they pay is simply passed on to customers.

To alleviate some of the financial pain Californians are facing, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decided in early February to issue automatic credits of $90 to $120 toward gas bills. The credits will be added to customers’ March bill.

“Millions of California families are opening their utility bills to sticker shock – and we’re taking action now to provide relief to help with those high gas bills,” Newsom said in a press release. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this because Californians deserve to know what’s behind these exorbitant bills.”

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