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O.C. may get a 4th area code

Public utilities officials consider creating a 657 zone -- or reserving that number for new cell service and land lines.

January 04, 2007|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Running short of numbers, state regulators are proposing a new area code for Orange County or even adding an overlay zone in which neighbors could end up in different area codes.

State officials say the supply of 714 area code phone numbers will be exhausted sometime in 2008. The 714 area code -- which serves northern and western Orange County -- was created in 1951 after it was split from the 213 zone.

The proposed 657 area code would be Orange County's fourth.

Creating new area codes, or using controversial overlay zones, has been a messy affair in other areas of the state. The decision last summer, for instance, to add an overlay zone in the 310 area -- which includes the Westside and South Bay -- capped nearly a decade of fierce debate.

The proposed area code change in Orange County is another in a string of such changes that loom across the state in the coming decade. The 760 area code, which stretches from Mammoth Lakes to northern San Diego County, might be the next victim. And the 818 in San Fernando Valley and Ventura County's 805 could be exhausted within the next six years.

The California Public Utilities Commission will hold a series of hearings this month in Anaheim, Orange and Huntington Beach to get reaction from residents and business owners to the proposed area code change.

"The use of cellphones, ATM machines, pay stations, computer modems and fax machines have all contributed to the shortage," said Kyle deVine, an analyst with the PUC. "There's a huge demand for all these gadgets that need phone numbers."

The addition of the new area code could affect many of the 7.32 million phones numbers in the 714 zone, most of them cell and land line users in the county's northern and western cities. Customers in the 562 zone and in the 949 area code, which was created in 1998 in fast-developing southern Orange County, would be exempt from the change, officials said.

State regulators are examining options to incorporate the new area code:

* Splitting 714 users into two geographical areas--essentially northern and western Orange County -- and requiring one zone to switch to the new 657 area code. The other would stick with the 714.

* Creating an overlay, which would require only new users -- cell or land line -- to get the new area code, meaning that some residents would be in the 714 with neighbors in 657. All customers would have to dial 1 and the area code.

In certain area codes, the PUC has limited phone numbers given to telephone companies in order to conserve. Instead of handing out blocks of 10,000 phone numbers, as once was the case, it has given away only blocks of 1,000 phone numbers at a time.

There are about 510 blocks in the 714 area code still available, DeVine said.

Some business owners are less than thrilled with the proposed change.

Jane Min, who bought a business in Anaheim a year ago, said she wouldn't want to spend extra money should the area code in northern Orange County change.

"I would have to change my business cards and re-advertise, so I don't want it to happen," said Min, owner of A Plus Flowers Inc.

She said the 657 area code would cause confusion for existing customers and that only new cellphone or land line users should be given that area code.

"When customers call and they can't get through, they'll think we went out of business," Min said. "It's a big inconvenience."

Rollie Wing, manager of the Closet in Huntington Beach, said the new area code would be a temporary hassle to the clothing and accessory store.

"It would only be a minor inconvenience because we'd have to order new business cards, but we change our cards all the time anyways," he said.

Public meetings will be held Jan. 17 at Anaheim City Hall; Jan. 18 at the Orange council chambers; and Jan. 25 at the Huntington Beach council chambers.

All meetings begin at 7 p.m. The PUC could make a decision in the middle of the year.

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