O.C.'s 714 area code to get an overlay

With numbers running out, state panel creates a 657 zone. An Anaheim official fears the change may confuse tourists.

September 21, 2007|David Haldane and David Reyes | Times Staff Writers

State regulators decided Thursday to create an area code overlay in the 714 section of Orange County, establishing the second such blended telephone zone in California.

The California Public Utilities Commission's 5-0 vote means that, starting late next summer, callers in the current 714 area will need to dial 10 or 11 digits to complete a local call. Existing telephone customers adding new numbers might wind up with phones in different area codes.

The new code -- 657 -- will cover the Anaheim resort district as well as other communities in northern and central Orange County, including Fullerton, Orange, Santa Ana and Yorba Linda, along with the coastal community of Huntington Beach.

PUC officials acknowledged that requiring cellphone customers making local calls to dial 10 digits and land-line customers to dial 11 digits -- a 1 followed by the area code and individual phone number -- can be inconvenient.

What's more, it will apply to everyone in the 714. So, a phone customer who keeps a 714 number and who calls someone else with a 714 number also will need to dial 10 or 11 digits.

Still, with 714 numbers running out, commissioners said it was the best solution.

Although dialing that many digits "takes some getting used to by consumers, we believe this action is necessary," Commissioner Rachelle Chong said in a news release.

She noted that phone customers in the 714 area will have to reprogram equipment with stored phone numbers, including fax machines and burglar alarm systems, to accommodate the dialing of the new, longer local numbers.

PUC officials have pointed out, however, that overlays can be less of a nuisance than splitting an area into two codes.

That would force customers in the new area to change to an entirely new telephone number, requiring them to notify their friends and clients, and print new business cards and office stationery.

Still, John Nicoletti, a spokesman for Anaheim, expressed the concern that the Orange County overlay will "create lots of visitor and tourist confusion." He noted that 45 million people a year visit the city's resort area, including many foreign tourists drawn to such attractions as Disneyland.

He said that if, for instance, a new restaurant opens by Disneyland with a 657 area code, instead of the existing 714, "people from other areas won't realize that they are right next to each other."

Nicoletti also pointed to Anaheim Garden Walk, an outdoor retail and entertainment center under construction in the resort area. Businesses moving in will want to promote their proximity to established tourist destinations but, Nicoletti said, having varying area codes "will make it difficult to have a consistent marketing message."

"There is the potential for confusion," he said. "What every resident is facing -- the consternation that there could be a different [area code] next door -- will be faced by businesses that have to market themselves" to visitors domestically and internationally.

But officials in Buena Park, which has its own entertainment corridor along Beach Boulevard that includes such well-known attractions as Knott's Berry Farm and Medieval Times, appeared less worried.

Though there is likely to be some confusion early on, said Aaron France, a city spokesman, it will all work out over time. "I think change is tough for anybody," he said, "but eventually people will kind of conform and they'll deal with it."

Likewise, a spokeswoman for South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa said she didn't anticipate major problems. "We have a main switchboard that can transfer to any store, and we have an 800 number," she said. What's more, she said, South Coast prints the phone numbers of each store in its phone directories and on its website.

Under the timetable set by the PUC, callers can start making 10- or 11-digit calls within the current 714 area in April and will be required to use 10 digits in August.

The first new phone numbers with the 657 area code will be issued in September.

For decades, the 714 area code -- which has more than 7.3 million phone numbers -- has been synonymous with Orange County. But the rapid spread of cellphones, computers and fax machines has caused the 714 to "just run out" of numbers, said Susan Carothers, a PUC spokeswoman.

The 657 area code will be the county's fourth. Customers in the county's existing 562 and 949 areas will not be affected by the change, officials said.

Thursday's decision follows a similar vote by the PUC two years ago to place the state's first area code overlay into the 310 area, serving the South Bay and Westside.

Officials started assigning the new 424 area code last year.

The PUC is considering an overlay for the San Fernando Valley's 818 area and for the 760 area covering parts of Riverside and San Diego counties.


Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein contributed to this report.

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