510 Skate Shop employee James Givens proudly displays the newly exhausted area code. The East Bay will get a new code, 341, next month. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

When state regulators announced that phone numbers with the 510 area code had been exhausted — and a new code would be introduced this summer — some longtime East Bay residents felt they were losing more than just the half-second it takes to dial the three digits.

To those loyalists, the launch of area code 341 — which will be attached to all newly assigned phone numbers starting July 22 — comes at a moment of immense transition for the region. The Warriors are leaving Oakland. Rents are on a seemingly endless upward climb. Demographics are changing rapidly.

“341 is the gentrification area code,” opined Twitter user @_CAMIMANI.

Or at least, tweeted KPFA host Brian Edwards-Tiekert, possessing the previous area code will suggest you’re not a gentrifier.

“A 510 number is about to become a signifier you’re OG/authentic/remember pre-to-mid-stage gentrification,” the journalist wrote.

Of course, for years, most newcomers have simply hung on to their Denver or New York City or Tuscaloosa codes when they’ve arrived in Berkeley, never installing a land line or switching cellphone numbers. The 341 numbers will probably go not to new arrivals, but to the local children who come of cellphone age after 2019.

For everyone, the change will bring a bit of an annoyance, requiring callers to type in the area code before making any local calls, starting Saturday. Until now, a 510 could call another 510 with just seven taps. When using a landline, callers will now have to dial “1” then the area code, the California Public Utilities Commission say. Some cellphone providers won’t require the “1,” but will still require an area code.

Many people already have all their acquaintances’ full numbers stored in their phones as contacts, or use voice-activated “virtual assistants” like Siri to ring stores and services. For them, the change will be hardly noticeable, noted Berkeleyside reader Alan Tobey.

“For a number of years now there’s been no absolute connection between phone number (with area code) and physical location,” Tobey said via Facebook. “We can take a number with us if we move. And of course our friends the robodialers can fake a local area code to make it more likely that we’ll pick up.”

Might those robocallers be responsible for the East Bay’s dearth of 510 numbers?

Nope, said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, which develops software that blocks robocalls and tracks data on the junk calls.

“Robocalls don’t have anything to do with exhausting area codes,” Quilici said in an email. When it looks like a robocall is coming in from a 510 number — or sometimes even one’s own number — the robocaller is using a “spoofing technique,” rather than actually calling from those digits, he said.

“The 510 has more likely than not reached capacity through all the cellphones taking up numbers, fax machines, new businesses, etc.,” he said. Other experts have agreed that population and job growth, and the proliferation of cellphones and other technologies linked to phone numbers, are the culprits.

Man with microphone on stage. Wearing red hat and chain around his neck.
The 510 area code is memorialized in lyrics by plenty of East Bay rappers, including Mistah F.A.B. Photo: Steve Rhodes

We sure do get a lot of spam calls, however. 510, which covers Alameda and Contra Costa counties, was the only Bay Area code to make it onto YouMail’s top 100 list of area codes affected by robocalls last month. It took 95th place, with Atlanta’s 404 the most affected.

In the East Bay, the real long-timers remember the era before the “nickel-dime” code. The area code that has come to define us was only introduced in 1991 — and then split off itself into the 925 seven years later. Before that, Berkeley, Oakland and neighboring towns were lumped in with San Francisco’s 415, now something unthinkable to the many East Bay residents who avoid crossing the bridge at all costs. (That change was a “split,” making the East Bay exclusively 510, whereas the introduction of 341 is an “overlay,” preserving both the old and new codes.)

East Bay resident Dro, who didn’t want to give his last name but spoke to Berkeleyside while watching an NBA finals game at an Oakland bar, said he “survived that first code split.”

Now, the Warriors fan has moved around the Bay Area so much that change feels natural.

“Your allegiance grows a little less,” Dro said. But the prospect of his beloved Dubs crossing the bay? “For teams it’s different. I’d rather see them stay in Oakland,” he said.

Berkeleyside reader Peggy Scott is another one of those long-timers who once had a 415 number in the East Bay. Even so, she said, she has grown to love 510.

“I use it in my Skype address and in other ways,” she said via Facebook. “I identify with 510 the way I am proud of Berkeley/Oakland, the Warriors, our wonderful Rep. Barbara Lee and our traditions of social justice, progressive education and an appreciation for diversity. (Take all of this with a grain of salt for how imperfect it all is, too.)”

That said, she wrote, “People tend to resist change. And then it happens and of course they are fine.”

The proliferation of cellphones in the East Bay is likely largely responsible for the exhaustion of 510. The owners of this Berkeley house can claim innocence. Photo: Fragmentary Evidence

Lee herself had some thoughts about the change.

“Hey, my district is the 510 district,” the congresswoman said to Berkeleyside last week. “That can’t change.”

She added lightheartedly: “I think I’ll have to weigh in on that — tell them to add more numbers!”

Some businesses and organizations in her jurisdiction have also embraced the area code, incorporating it into their names and painting it on their awnings.

In Berkeley, 510 Skate Shop has been a home base for a lot of local skaters since it opened in 1998. The owners have said they started the Telegraph Avenue store to promote and serve the East Bay in a then San Francisco-focused scene.

Owner Dandy Harris said the new code doesn’t faze her and won’t affect the shop.

“At this point the name is just a name and has very little to actually do with the area code,” she said in an email. “Although 510 as representing the East Bay was our original inspiration 21 years ago when we opened.”

One of her employees, Gabriel Villaseñor, is similarly resigned to the shift.

“That’s the tradeoff when you have more people, more cellphones,” he said during a recent quiet afternoon at the shop. But for the skater who has spent his whole life in Pinole and El Cerrito, 510 will always sound like “home.”

And 341 “doesn’t sound as cool,” he said.

Heather Flett, who also named her business after the current area code, said, “510 is a state of mind as well as an area code.”

The publisher of 510Families.com, an online guide for East Bay parents, said in an email, “I think the East Bay is wide enough to welcome the new 341 families, but it will take me a while to get used it it!”

Others who are mourning the change say they’ll refuse to “get used to it.”

Don’t call Twitter user @projectsteven65 from a 341 number.

“I ain’t answering,” he wrote.

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...