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City Officials Oppose Area Code Changes

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

April 22 -- City officials are scrambling this week to prevent the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) from pushing through changes that could soon have residents dialing 11 digits to reach next-door neighbors.

Concerned that pressure by phone companies will likely result in some change to the 310 area code, City Council members Ken Genser and Kevin McKeown rushed to add an agenda item to next week's council meeting that would throw the City's support behind a geographic split, rather than adding an additional area code within Santa Monica and surrounding cities.

Adding a new area code within Santa Monica, known as an "overlay" -- with the likely future prefix of 424 -- would be tantamount to residents dialing as many digits to reach New York as to reach out and touch someone down the street, according to the council members.

Phone companies argue the change may be necessary since they contend the numbers are quickly running out in the 310 area, but City officials argue it comes at too high a price to local residents and businesses.

"An overlay might be convenient for the phone companies, but an inconvenient disaster for Santa Monicans who'd have to dial eleven digits for a local call," McKeown said.

At stake is not only the convenience of keeping the same numbers for residents, but local businesses could face expensive changes as well, McKeown and Genser said.

"Imagine all the costs associated with this, including changing stationary and anything that has your business number on it," said McKeown.

With the first of four hearings scheduled April 27 in Malibu between phone companies and the CPUC, the Council members rushed to place an item on the agenda to make sure that Santa Monica opposition to any change in the 310 area, especially an overlay, comes through crystal clear by sending a staff member to the hearing.

The changes phone companies are requesting, according to McKeown, will not immediately take effect. Rather, phone companies are requesting discretion over changes to various area codes -- without oversight -- as needed.

"The phone companies have come up with a clever way the CPUC can avoid political pressure, because a vote now to overlay 310 won't take immediate effect," McKeown said. "We're not going to let them get away with that."

In addition to lobbying the CPUC, the council likely will back an Assembly bill authored by Mike Gordon (D), that would shine light on the process phone companies use to determine when area codes are close to being exhausted.

The bill would also require carriers return or donate surplus numbers, as necessary.

Both council members said they were caught unaware by the proposed changes to the area codes, which they first heard about last week.

"To me, it's just out of the blue," said Genser, who said he learned of the changes through a notice he received last week from his phone company, Verizon.

"I believe other residents are getting similar notices in their mailboxes right now as well," he said.

If a change does happen to the area code, McKeown and Genser said they would prefer a geographic split that would designate a 424 prefix south of Imeprial Freeway near LAX and keep the 310 area code north of the freeway.

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