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New Phone System Rings in the New Year at City Hall : Communication: Fiasco with 13-year-old hookup began Thanksgiving weekend. Six weeks and $70,000 later, employees are back in touch.


SOUTH GATE — Bells are ringing again at City Hall. The phone fiasco of 1993 is history.

After a six-week, $70,000 overhaul of the City Hall phone system, Building and Safety Director Chon Cervantes will inform council members Tuesday that city employees are back in full communication with the outside world.

The city's 13-year-old telephone system went down Thanksgiving weekend, leaving both the public and city workers frustrated. A leak in the basement reached the phone cable system and caused a short, leaving much of City Hall incommunicado, officials said.

Police Department phones were working within 24 hours. But for weeks, outside callers who dialed other departments would hear a mysterious clicking and get no answer, while others would be cut off before reaching their party or hear a recording informing them that their call did not go through. If a call did slip into City Hall, it usually could not be transferred.

Meanwhile, city employees could not make phone calls at all unless they were dialing 911. They even resorted to a pre-Alexander Graham Bell system of communicating by messenger within the building. Parks and Recreation workers were lucky--they were able to use the pay phone outside their building.

"It was driving us all crazy," said City Manager Todd W. Argow. "We are a customer service organization and to have contact cut off with our customers and even each other caused us an extensive amount of frustration. There are some things beyond your control, even when you exercise due diligence."

Building and Safety employees worked around the clock to restore service, Cervantes said, and temporarily jury-rigged modem lines to be used for telephone calls.

On Dec. 7, the council scheduled a special meeting to approve spending capital improvement funds from the Public Works Department budget for the new system.

Telephone problems have not been unusual at City Hall, Cervantes said. The system frequently broke down, leaving the city switchboard eerily silent for hours. Plans for the new system were made in September, 1992.

The new system includes rented phone lines from Pacific Bell, voice-mail installation and eventual replacement of every phone at City Hall, Cervantes said.

Because of the new system, city phone numbers have changed. The new main number for City Hall is (213) 563-9500; the Police Department can be reached at (213) 563-5400.

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