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Cracking the Code

A guide to the growing, bewildering array of numbers being used to route telephone calls in Southern California.


In those dark and unwired days before most people had pagers, personal computers and cellular phones, telephone users believed that the only time a person's area code changed was when they moved.

Indeed, the 213 area code reigned supreme in Los Angeles County, and throughout Southern California, from 1947 to 1984, when it finally surrendered the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys to the 818 area code. Before that, the only other changes to the 213 area code occurred in 1951 and 1957, when the telephone company and regulators created the 714 and 805 area codes.

But in the last decade, Los Angeles County has seen unprecedented growth in local area codes. Five new area codes have sprouted here since 1992--most taking root within the last three years--and officials with the North American Numbering Plan Administration say that more changes are in the works.

Most recently, Westside and South Bay telephone users were among the first in the state to be assigned an "overlay," meaning that two area codes will soon exist in the same geographic area.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 24, 1999 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 4 Metro Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Area codes--In Friday's editions, a map accompanying a story on telephone area codes in California inadvertently omitted the 323 area, which is shown above.
GRAPHIC-MAP: (No caption / 323 code area of Los Angeles), Los Angeles Times

Because of these changes, residents throughout Southern California are struggling to memorize a new patchwork of area codes, and enduring such odd terms as "permissive dialing," and "code relief." Others, who complain that the changes are bad for local business and unnecessarily disruptive of personal lives, are seeking to fight the tide with legislation.

Telephone companies and the California Public Utilities Commission say the changes are needed to keep pace with spiraling demand for new telephone lines--lines required for such electronic devices as pagers, modems, wireless phones, fax machines and bank card debit machines. Population growth and regulations concerning the sale and purchase of telephone lines share in the blame as well.

The following is an overview of the state's current network of area codes, and those changes that customers have to look forward to in the coming months:

213/323: The 213 area code now stands as a tiny downtown island among a sea of newborn codes. Most recently, area code planners split off a doughnut-shaped portion of the 213 area code to create a Los Angeles area code of 323. That split occurred last June.

Numbering plan officials say that there are no plans to modify the 213 area code once again, but predict that all of its numbers will be used up within the next three years.

As for the 323 code, numbering plan officials say only that "relief planning" is to begin soon, but can't offer any details. "Relief" is the term that planners use for modifying an area code.

310/424: Telephone customers on the Westside and in the South Bay are the first in the state to see the creation of an overlay (two area code) district. Although existing phone lines will retain the 310 area code, a new 424 area code will be assigned to all new lines beginning in July.

In addition, all callers within the district must dial a 1, plus the area code, plus the regular seven-digit telephone number to complete a call, even in their own area code.

The new 11-digit dialing took effect Saturday.

562: This new code, which includes Long Beach and eastern Los Angeles County, was created in 1997 when the area was broken off from 310. Telephone industry planners say the area is burning through telephone numbers and must either be split again or get an overlay. Planners will submit their recommendation to the utilities commission within six weeks. A final decision will come in four to five months.

Planners have suggested two options for a north-south split. One option would leave Long Beach, Seal Beach, Signal Hill, Paramount and parts of Lakewood and Hawaiian Gardens with the existing 562 area code, while communities to the north would get a new area code. In the second split proposal, northern communities such as Downey, Cerritos, Norwalk, Whittier, Pico Rivera, La Habra Heights and Santa Fe Springs would keep the 562 area code. Cities to the south would get a new one.

Planners are also considering an overlay for the entire 562 area. Under that plan, all existing phone lines would keep their 562 area code, while all new lines would come with a new area code. Residents would also be required to dial 11-digit numbers within the area.

818/626: Although telephone customers in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys experienced the turmoil of a split in their 818 area code two years ago, callers in the new 626 area code can take some satisfaction in knowing that further changes are in store for their former code mates in 818.

Telephone companies and public utility officials are already planning changes that could involve another two-way split in the 818 area code or an overlay. A final decision is expected within two months. The new area code could hit telephone customers as early as August 2000.

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