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Phone Calls Costing $2 Offer Secondhand Help

Small but eye-catching signs have sprouted in recent months throughout the hard-luck neighborhoods of San Diego, Chula Vista and National City offering information about jobs and rental housing.

“HELP WANTED” say some of the signs. “HOUSE FOR RENT” say others. All give the same phone number, 976-3383.

Smaller print warns that a call will cost $2, plus any toll charge.

If a caller is lucky, he will hear a tape listing half a dozen rental units or unskilled jobs, nearly all of which were originally advertised in local newspapers. If a caller is unlucky, the recording will disconnect or be empty.

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For another $2, you can try again.

Born of the more competitive marketplace since the breakup of the telephone monopoly, the 976 “info-access” boom is best known for the flap over dial-a-porn.

But now 976 entrepreneurs who offer other services are also beginning to raise official eyebrows.

The holder of 976-3383--Los Angeles-based Pacific Data Services--has managed to pique the interest of Chula Vista police (who are tired of tearing down its illegally placed signs), Chula Vista city officials (who say the firm needs a soliciting license) and the San Diego city attorney’s consumer fraud division (which is checking for possible misleading advertising).

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Caught in the middle, Pac Bell says it has no authority to terminate a 976 patron.

“It’s like dial-a-joke,” said Pac Bell spokesman Michael Runzler. “It may be the oldest joke in the world, but if people think it’s worth $2, that’s up to them.”

Pacific Data President Fritz Gloss says his firm is selling convenience, allowing a caller to sit at home and get half a dozen leads for $2 rather than walk to the corner and buy a newspaper for 25 cents.

The $2 charge, slapped on the caller’s phone bill, is the maximum allowed by the Public Utilities Commission, with $1.30 going to Pacific Data and 70 cents to Pac Bell.

For each category--jobs, homes, town homes, apartments--there are meant to be three to four lists. Each list is available by making an additional $2 call and punching in a separate number once the recording begins.

Most of the listings, Gloss said, are gleaned from local newspapers, although Pacific Data hopes someday to deal directly with employment and rental agencies.

“I doubt many bank presidents will find their jobs through 976, but we see a big market in the blue-collar, less-skilled segment of the market,” Gloss said. “We think we’re the future in San Diego County.”

Getting Wilson’s Goat

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It seemed like a good idea at the time, so Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy made a television commercial ridiculing Sen. Pete Wilson’s sponsorship of a congressional resolution declaring National Dairy Goat Awareness Week.

The goal was to highlight what McCarthy sees as Wilson’s anemic legislative output. It hasn’t quite worked that way.

First, a veterinarian noticed that the McCarthy ad uses a mountain goat, not a dairy goat. Then the California Dairy Goat Marketing Assn. and the American Dairy Goat Assn. protested that McCarthy is denigrating an important industry that is helping to turn back the tide of imported cheese.

Now Wilson has informed a Rancho Santa Fe fund-raiser that the McCarthy goat is actually a male.

“Try milking that , Leo,” Wilson said.

Chicken in the Middle

The Chicken’s appearance last week at a rally for President Reagan at the Sports Arena was not his first command performance for a commander-in-chief.

He also appeared at a campaign event at Fashion Valley in 1976 for President Ford. Perhaps as a result, he was chicken-non-grata during the Carter Administration.

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Ted Giannoulas, the fowl’s alter ego, says The Chicken thinks of himself as patriotic and nonpartisan.

“He’s a middle-of-the-road chicken, even though that can be a very dangerous place for a chicken,” Giannoulas said.


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