State utility officials voted Thursday to overlay a new area code in the San Fernando Valley -- an action that follows a decade of emotional debate and effectively ends the Valley’s longtime reputation as the land of the 818.
The decision by the California Public Utilities Commission will also add a new area code to a number of communities north of San Diego.
Beginning in May 2009, all new telephone numbers issued in the 818 area will take a 747 area code. Customers who already have 818 telephone numbers will be allowed to keep them, however, they and everyone else in the zone will be required to dial 11 digits to make a local call -- even if they’re calling the house next door.
Also, next April, residents in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Fallbrook and Oceanside and other areas north of San Diego will have 442 numbers instead of 760.
Like other recent Southern California area code changes, officials said the new prefixes were necessary to deal with a looming number shortage.
The new Valley prefix will possibly prompt a cultural shift in how people think about the region.
Hardest hit will be those who are especially fond of the 24-year-old 818 -- such as the Granada Hills resident with an “LA818" tattoo who was among hundreds of folks who e-mailed officials and implored them not to change their prefix.
Valley residents largely supported the overlay. Many attended public hearings sponsored by state regulators and said they didn’t want the hassle of changing business cards and stationery to reflect a new area code.
Since it announced its intention last fall to create a new Valley area code, the utilities commission received 741 comments, with 442 supporting an overlay, 199 favoring splitting the region into two area codes, and 100 with no preference.
Los Angeles City Council representatives, who criticized the commission for not providing more time for Valley residents to comment on the recently released overlay proposal, said the proliferation of cellphones, BlackBerrys and fax machines has given officials little choice but to add a new area code.
“We have very few options available to us,” said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who represents the eastern half of the Valley. “If we had our druthers, we would rather not have to have an overlay.”
State regulators said allowing businesses to hang onto 818 numbers played a crucial part in their decision to use 747 for new numbers, rather than splitting the region between the two area codes.
The overlay proposal followed a controversial decision by the utilities commission in 1999 to split the Valley, with one side keeping the 818 and the other getting 747. Residents and businesses protested the plan, and there was disagreement about where the line should be drawn and which side would receive the new area code.
The San Fernando Valley was expanding and quickly developing its sense of place when the 818 was split from 213 in 1984. In movies, books and songs, the 818 is intertwined with references to the quintessential suburb, both positive and negative.
However, the North American Numbering Plan Administration -- an agency contracted by the Federal Communications Commission to monitor area codes -- expects the 818 to exhaust its supply of numbers by late next year.
Thursday’s decision provoked a variety of responses.
“The thought of it makes me ill,” said Sue Alexander, a children’s book author and 47-year West Hills resident. She was most frustrated that residents must soon dial 11 digits for every 818 call.
“I resent it,” she added. “I know when they took Pasadena out of 818 that was no big deal; that’s another place. But North Hollywood is not another place. Encino is not another place.”
Others said they didn’t mind the extra dialing, but worried that the change would add to their phone bill because 747 will not be tied to a specific part of the Valley.
“You really will never know where you are calling -- unless you know your friend lives in Woodland Hills or something,” said Burbank resident Stan Hyman.
Still, Valley business owners were relieved that Thursday’s decision allows them to keep their existing numbers.
“I went through the 213 and 310 split. It just gets really tiresome and expensive after a while,” said Lauren Weinstein, who owns a consulting business in Woodland Hills. “I’m in the 818 and staying.”