Changes may be coming to the 707 area code

The North Coast’s cherished area code is expected to run out of prefixes by the end of 2023. The solutions are going to be weird.|

The Guerneville drag queen, the Fairfield tech commuter and the Del Norte County logger might have nothing in common if they, and about 1.3 million other people, weren’t united by three digits: 707.

It’s just a number, but the area code that stretches up the Northern California coast from northern Marin County to the Oregon border, and east almost to Sacramento represents home and inspires allegiance. Just ask E-40, the rapper who had a hit called “707” in 2014. E-40 might have been repping the V-A-double-L-E-J-O, as his collaborator Little Joe says on the track, but you can bet kids from the C-A-Z-A-D-E-R-O have blasted it with pride on their car stereos.

That sense of place is why you see “707” tattooed on biceps and shins, and why business listings include Taxi 707 in Ukiah, communications firm Studio 707 in Napa, barbecue joint Local Q 707 in Calistoga and 707 Seedbank, a cannabis company.

“I was trying to find something that, I guess, was catchy and easy to remember,” said Joel Burkett, owner of 707 Racing Suspension, a Rohnert Park shop that has built hydraulic shock systems for dirt bikes since 2009. “No one in the area had used that yet. And it was kind of like a racy-race number. I feel like I built my business with just stickers that I handed out to high school kids. I flooded Sonoma County with ‘707’ stickers.”

That area code has been associated with northern coastal California for more than 60 years, but it might soon become less iconic. Under current projections, the 707 area code will run out of three-digit prefixes to assign sometime around December 2023, according to the North American Number Plan Administrator. The obscure third-party office that handles such logistics in California has recommended adding another area code to the region, and would like to see it in place by the second quarter of 2023.

To be clear, tattoo removal will not be necessary. No one is coming for your existing 707 number. But by July 1, 2023, if the California Public Utilities Commission accepts the number administrator’s plan, any phones added within this huge tract of land will get a different, as-yet-undetermined area code.

And much sooner than that — by Oct. 24 — the entire zone is expected to begin shifting to 1+10 dialing, meaning you will have to punch 1-707 before completing the phone number and connecting on a call, even if you’re just phoning from one side of Windsor Town Green to the other. Service providers will have until July 15, 2022, to complete the erasure of seven-digit dialing from their networks.

It took a long time to reach this crossroads. The 707 area code has occupied its current dimensions, which include all or part of 11 counties and 34 incorporated cities, since Jan. 1, 1959. It was then that a previous glut resulted in chunks of the 415 area code — one of California’s three originals, along with 916 and 213 — being apportioned to 707 and 408, which covered the South Bay and part of the central coast.

Santa Rosa natives of a certain age say they never used 415, insisting they went straight from the LI(berty) prefix to 707. It seemed like quite an innovation at the time.

“My original phone number was 546,” said Ed Canevari, 83, who grew up in Santa Rosa.

Canevari remembers riding his bike to movies at the Roxy theater as a boy. “I think it was 5 cents to make a phone call to get my mom to pick me up,” he said. “I’d get on the line and go, ‘546, please.’ And the operator would go, ‘Hi, Ed. How’s the family?’ My family knew a lot of phone operators.”

When California established 707 in 1959, there were just six area codes in the state. Now there are 36.

It isn’t hard to imagine numbers proliferating in this age of cell coverage. In 2017, the 707 area code was assigned seven new prefixes, as the three digits that follow the area code are most often called. Additions increased to nine in 2018, 12 in 2019 and 23 in 2020. By now, just 29 prefixes remain open for assignment in 707.

The reason you will be transitioning to a 10-digit procedure is the FCC’s effort to make 988 a three-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

That move will unburden the 911 system from most mental-health calls. But it would open the possibility of potentially traumatic confusion for anyone who called a number with a 988 prefix without dialing the area code first — for example, someone phoning into Whitethorn, a community (population: 817) in Humboldt County. Carriers can eliminate that outcome by requiring you to dial the area code first.

The 415 area code has already gone to 10-digit local dialing, for that reason, and 707 is one of nine in California expected to follow suit, according to Heidi Wayman, manager of data management for the number plan administrator.

The route to area code alterations can be complicated. In December 1999, the CPUC approved a three-way split of 707 that would have carved out areas for 369 and 627. Just seven months later, the utilities commission reversed course and deferred the implementation schedules. The plan never went anywhere. For the record, 369 and 627 are still up for grabs, along with about 120 other eligible code numbers not currently in use in the United States and abroad.

If the proposed evolution occurs, the CPUC will employ what it calls an overlay model, with two area codes sharing the same territory, rather than dividing up the territory. The new 707 overlay is projected to last 49 years, the number administrator said.

The CPUC expects to reach a decision on 707 in the third quarter of 2022. If commissioners approve the number administrator’s plan, the CPUC will spend about nine months on customer education and ultimately introduce the new area code, whatever it may be, in the second quarter of 2023.

And then, if all goes well, crisis will be averted and every child entering middle school can demand the cell phone he or she has been promised. On the other hand, we will have found yet another way to divide ourselves. As if red-vs.-blue and vaccinated-vs.-unvaccinated weren’t enough, 707-vs.-TBD may become a thing. Next-door neighbors will have different home area codes, and your thumb will have to hit 10 numbers just to order pizza.

It won’t convince Burkett to rebrand 707 Racing Suspension, though.

“As far as the code changing, I’d still keep the name the same,” he said. “It’s like Sears Point or Infineon Raceway. The name has changed, but a lot of people still refer to it as that.”

It all may take some getting used to. But Ed Canevari, who has spent three-quarters of his very full life answering to 707, wasn’t particularly sentimental when asked if splitting his area code would be disconcerting.

“I wouldn’t give a damn,” the retiree said. “What do I care? I’m not with the telephone company. As long as I pay my goddamn bill, I don’t care.”

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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