A plan that would create a new 424 area code overlay in the present 310 area code will be the topic of a California Public Utilities Commission hearing Thursday, August 25th, in San Francisco.

The hearing comes after administrative law judge Thomas Pulsifer issued a decision Monday, July 25th, that ordered the commission to begin preparing for the overlay.

An overlay is different from a geographic area code split, in which half of the telephone customers would have to switch their current phone number to a phone number with the new area code.

If the commission approves an overlay, all new phone numbers in the current 310 area code region would be given a 424 area code.

Residents and businesses from Santa Monica to San Pedro currently get phone numbers with 310 area codes.

“In conjunction with replacing the geographic split with an overlay, we also conclude that implementation of the new area code cannot be delayed any longer without jeopardizing customers’ access to telephone numbers from the carrier of their choice,” Pulsifer said. “Accordingly, we direct the implementation of the new area code overlay to commence immediately.”

In the overlay plan, people making calls within the 310 and 424 region would have to dial the number 1, the three-digit area code and the seven-digit line number.

The 11-digit dialing pattern would be required for calls from one 310 phone number to another, from one 424 phone number to another or from a 310 phone number to a 424 phone number and vice versa.

Pulsifer ruled that customers could have a grace period — until Saturday, December 31st — when dialing either seven or 11 digits would work, to get accustomed to 11-digit dialing.

Customers would be required to dial 11 digits starting July 26th.

Many local politicians have reacted in opposition to Pulsifer’s decision and formed a “310 Coalition.”

The coalition includes the South Bay Cities Council of Governments, Los Angeles County, the South Bay Association of Chambers of Commerce and the South Bay Economic Development Partnership.

Active members of the coalition are Congresswoman Jane Harman, State Senator Debra Bowen, State Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza and Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe.

The coalition submitted a 12-page response to the commission about Pulsifer’s decision.

“We oppose the draft decision because a telephone utilization study has not been performed to determine the number inventory that currently exists in the 310 area code as required by SB 1741,” the coalition partners wrote. “The last utilization study and subsequent audit were conducted five years ago, before various successful number conservation measures were implemented.”

SB 1741 is a State Senate bill authored by Bowen that became law in 2000.

The coalition’s response asserts that:

– all reasonable telephone number conservation measures have not been implemented;

– implementing more conservation measures such as requiring the return of unused pager numbers, establishing guidelines for phone companies to better manage their phone number inventories and creating an overlay for technology phone numbers would preserve the 310 area code; and

– more than two million telephone numbers are still unused and available to customers in the 310 area code.

“The coalition will continue to challenge the pending decision until all necessary and reasonable conservation methods have been implemented,” said Jacki Bacharach, a spokeswoman for the South Bay Cities Council of Governments.

Coalition partners wrote that they believe premature changes to the 310 area code are costly and inconvenient for residents and businesses.

Changes in dialing patterns are especially burdensome for senior citizens and the disabled, the coalition partners believe.

The 310 area code was established in 1991 after phone numbers were exhausted in the 213 area code.

In January 1997, the 310 area code was split and the 562 area code was created in the southeast portion of the former 310 area.

In May 1997, the telephone companies again wanted another new area code plan for the 310 area.

State legislation and angry opposition from residents and business owners put the plan on hold until March of this year, when the telephone companies filed an overlay petition with the commission.

“The action we take takes into consideration extensive debate over several years concerning the merits of geographic splits versus overlays,” Pulsifer said.

“Moreover, we implement the overlay only after having pursued all reasonable efforts to ensure that numbers are being allocated efficiently.”