Forget living in “The 818.” Overwhelmed by demand for new lines, the telephone area code that has defined the San Fernando Valley for more than two decades is quickly running out. And the California Public Utilities Commission now is considering adding a 747 area code to the Valley because the remaining 818 numbers are expected to be used up within the next two years. Options include dividing the Valley geographically into two area-code zones, roughly along east-west lines, or simply assigning the new 747 code to all new phone lines no matter where they are in the Valley. But the plans came as a shock Thursday to many Valley officials and activists who have long touted 818 as a virtual symbol of the Valley’s unique identity and who had no idea a Valley 747 was in the works. “One would hope that the PUC would be reaching out to local business groups on a policy change as significant as this,” said Brendan Huffman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. “But you can’t rely on governmental agencies to always do that, especially when they’re located in Northern California.” Susan Carothers, spokeswoman for the commission, said the agency plans to publicize the plan soon and has scheduled a series of public hearings in the Valley next month. But while Valley residents’ comments are welcome, there is virtually nothing that can stop the new area code from coming, and the hearings will focus more on how to implement it rather than whether it is necessary. Carothers said the change is driven by the region’s growing population and the proliferation of multiple electronic devices that require additional phone lines. “Times have changed dramatically in California,” she said. “We now have 37 million people. Everybody and their brother has a cell phone, a fax, a pager. “Some have two or three telephone lines. They all require area codes and prefixes, so it’s no surprise that they would be running short.” The change, however, is expected to generate strident opposition from residents who don’t want to have to dial 11 digits to reach their neighbors and from business owners who don’t want to reprogram all their machines and print new stationery. There are also some who just feel the lone area code of 818 helps define the Valley as a single, unified region. “We have fought to have our own census district, our own statistical district – all these things we’ve been fighting for to make the Valley a unique place,” said City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel. “This would challenge that ability.” The 818 area code was created in 1984 when the Valley was split from the Los Angeles 213 code. Some longtime community residents recall few protests at the time, in part because Valley people saw the code as a reflection that their area was developing its own identity. In popular culture, 818 has sometimes been used as a shorthand moniker for the Valley itself. The projection that the Valley will run out of 818 numbers by late 2009 comes from the North American Numbering Plan Administration. The service is operated by Virginia-based NeuStar Inc. and oversees the national telephone numbering system. And this is not the first time the administration has made such a projection about 818. In 1999-2000, the PUC also considered adding 747 to the Valley, based on administration projections that 818 would be exhausted within a year or two. But local residents loudly protested, and lawmakers forced state and federal officials to admit there were thousands of numbers still within 818 that were sitting around unused. At the time, federal rules called for numbers to be allocated to phone companies an entire prefix at a time, meaning a block of 10,000 numbers. In many cases, smaller carriers needed only 500 or 1,000 numbers per prefix, leaving large chunks simply unassigned, yet unavailable to other carriers. Amid the protests, the federal government changed the rules so numbers are now allocated in blocks of 1,000. The PUC then backed off its proposed 818 split. But some telecommunications experts say an 818 split may now be inevitable because the numbers truly are being exhausted, and there is no easy fix this time. [email protected] (916) 446-6723160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!