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Will the proposed 747 area code fly in the Valley?

September 07, 2007|Rong-Gong Lin II and David Pierson | Times Staff Writers

818. For more than two decades, those three numbers have served as a point of pride for San Fernando Valley residents and occasionally used with derision by people on the other side of the Hollywood Hills.

The question now is whether 747 has the same ring.

State regulators said Thursday that they intend to create a new area code for the San Fernando Valley by either assigning all new phone customers to the 747 area code or dividing the 818 in two.

A second area code district would be carved out of the southwestern section of the Valley, roughly from Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks west to Westlake Village. Officials haven't determined whether this area would stick with the 818 or get the 747.

Regardless of the choice, it's clear it will be fought across the Valley, with businesses and residents saying they don't want the hassle and expense of a new area code.

It took regulators about a decade of debate before finally implementing a new code overlay for the 310 area of the Westside and the South Bay.

But many residents of those areas opposed the change, and a chorus of criticism is already rising across the Valley.

"It's a foolish mistake. It creates more chaos," said Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, who represents the southwestern part of the San Fernando Valley.

Zine's colleague, Wendy Greuel, said the 818 is part of the Valley's cultural fabric.

"The 818 has become part of the Valley genre," Greuel said. "You describe it as, 'Oh, it's out in the 818.' People know that's in the San Fernando Valley. . . and there's something to be said about that. . . . It's a geographic area that has its own identity."

State officials and phone operators are less sentimental.

With the rise in cellphones, Blackberrys and fax machines, and phone service offered over the Internet, they say the need for new numbers is exploding.

And the 818 -- which was formed in 1984 from the 213 -- is rapidly running out of numbers. Area codes have 792 prefixes, each with 10,000 phone numbers available. The 818 now has 61 prefixes left.

Officials with the North American Numbering Plan Administration, a contract agency of the Federal Communications Commission that monitors area codes, expect the 818 code to be depleted of numbers by late 2009. Similar problems exist in other Southern California suburbs, and officials are deciding whether to split or overlay the 714 (northern and western Orange County) and 760 (northern San Diego County) area codes.

The Public Utilities Commission notes that California now has 13 million residential land-line numbers and 27.5 million wireless lines.

"They all require an area code and prefix -- and, let's face it, we're running out," said Susan Carothers, a PUC spokeswoman.

Because the 818 was one of the first breakaways from the once-mammoth 213 area code, it has long been intertwined in the culture of the San Fernando Valley -- for better and worse.

In movies and songs, the "818" has become synonymous with the Valley. In the film "Swingers," one of the characters suggests that a woman with a 310 area code is more desirable than one with a 818 code.

Then there is the T-shirt that reads: "I don't date 818."

And the 747?

Not for George Gutierrez.

"I'd be really disappointed if I got 747," said the 19-year-old, who works at Banana Republic in the Glendale Galleria. "It sounds like a default area code. It would be a big pain."

Rick Gitelson, 45, a TV writer and producer who lives in Studio City, agreed. "Not another area code!" he said when told of the 747 plan, adding that the number reminded him of a jumbo jet.

Area code changes have been the focus of battles that have reverberated from Los Angeles to Sacramento and even Washington, D.C.

A decade ago, a coalition of Westside and South Bay political leaders successfully reversed a move to overlay the 310 code and kept it unaltered until 2005, when the PUC voted a second time to allow a 424 area code to be "overlaid" on top of the 310 code.

That meant that existing phone customers could keep their existing area code, 310. But new customers would get the 424 code, and every phone customer in the 310 area would have to punch 11 digits, including the area code, to make local calls.

Verizon spokesman Jon Davies said the most recent 310 overlay went relatively smoothly. Verizon alerted home-alarm-system companies to reprogram alarms to dial the area code when triggered, he said.

But some in the Valley remain dubious.

Wayne Adelstein, president of the North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, warned that companies would incur enormous costs if they had to change their business cards, advertising and stationery because of their area codes.

He added that new businesses getting the 747 code could also be at a disadvantage if longtime residents didn't initially recognize it as a local number.

Councilman Richard Alarcon said he was also skeptical of the need for a new area code, noting that the City Council in 2000 fought an effort to divide the 818.

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