Plan to Add Telephone Area Code Criticized at Hearing : Communications: Many Valley-area customers prefer assigning 626 to new customers rather than splitting the existing 818 region.

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A plan to assign a new telephone area code to Glendale, most of Burbank and the San Gabriel Valley drew a decidedly negative reaction Monday from local residents who attended a hearing on the issue.

The plan, being touted by a private telecommunications advisory group including Pacific Bell, GTE, L.A. Cellular and others, would change the 818 code to 626 in many areas because of the dwindling numbers remaining in the existing zone.

For Lissa Zanville, who owns a small business designing and maintaining databases in Valley Village, the assigning of a new area code based on geography would mean she would have to go into her computer and manually change 4,000 to 30,000 telephone numbers in the databases she maintains, she said.

Zanville, like others who spoke at the meeting attended by 45 people at the Airport Hilton Hotel, advocated a new area "overlay" instead of splitting up the 818 area code. Under the overlay concept, existing customers would keep their 818 area code, while all new customers would be assigned 626. In addition, all customers would have to dial a 1 and then 10 digits--the area code and number--each time a call is made, even to numbers with the same area code.

The telecommunications group previously had been considering such an idea along with its current plan. But the Public Utilities Commission on Aug. 11 ruled that overlays were inadvisable because they could interfere with competition among telephone and other communications companies that will soon be allowed to offer local phone service. Telephone companies, such as MCI and Sprint, successfully argued that the overlay would force them to offer only telephone numbers with new area codes, which they said would discourage people from signing up with them.

Bowing to the PUC decision, the telecommunications group dropped the overlay alternative in favor of the geographic split option. Another San Fernando Valley meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Senior Multipurpose Center, 6514 Sylmar Ave., in Van Nuys.

Paula Olivares, who chairs the telecommunications group and presented the plan on Monday, said that despite the PUC's decision, it could still allow an overlay in the current 818 area code if there were overwhelming public demand for it. Olivares is an employee of Pacific Bell, which favors the overlay strategy over the geographic split.

The telecommunications group, after collecting public opinion on the plan, is scheduled to finalize its proposal in December. The PUC will make the final decision.

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Dividing by the Numbers

Glendale, most of Burbank, and the San Gabriel Valley would get a new area code, 626, under a plan being introduced at public meetings throughout the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys this month. San Fernando Valley residents from Agoura to Sunland-Tujunga would would keep the 818 code.

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