The Los Angeles City Council should do more than just delay the Department of Water and Power’s planned rate hikes. It should flatly say no. DWP officials say they need the extra cash to increase staff and replace aging, beat-up equipment. DWP officials don’t say why the equipment is so beat up and worn, and if that’s indeed the case. Also, they don’t say why there’s a sudden staffing crunch. Yet still they are asking the L.A. City Council and taxpayers to approve double-digit rake hikes over the next two years on their assertion that there’s a looming power crisis. That’s simply not enough to go on. In the past, power companies have massaged, manipulated and blatantly distorted energy needs, supply and costs to get rate increases. A near-textbook example of that is the rate-hike grab by San Diego Gas and Electric for 2008. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates, an independent arm of the state Public Utilities Commission that represents consumers, found that SDG&E wildly inflated salary projections, employee benefits, cost of customer-service operations, and the price of equipment maintenance by tens of millions. The cost fudging was more than 30percent above the industry average. But it’s a straw-man question. Even if DWP officials could give such a guarantee – and that’s highly questionable – that should not be the basis for the council’s granting the rate hike. The hike should be based solely on need and proven performance. The DWP hasn’t made a firm case for either. But that’s never stopped city officials from rubber-stamping fee and tax hikes before, or approving overblown salary increases for city officials – especially themselves. Los Angeles is in a serious budget crisis, and city leaders are asking taxpayers – as always – to bail the city out of that crisis. That’s bad enough, but don’t make it worse by asking taxpayers to bail the DWP out of a crisis that isn’t a crisis. The council must say no to the DWP’s rate-hike grab. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an author and political analyst, is a frequent contributor to the Daily News. He blogs at insidesocal.com/friendlyfire.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champEach time, the energy and utility companies swear that the increases will be the last they’ll demand in the foreseeable future. Of course, that’s never true. If the DWP really has equipment and staffing problems, it’s certainly not because of a lack of money. The DWP has one of the highest operating budgets of any city agency. But the money the DWP shells out to its top officials and its employees is nothing short of scandalous. David Nahai, the new DWP chief, will bank more than $300,000 in salary. And DWP workers are on average the runaway highest-paid city employees. In fact, their pay tops that of many of their private-sector utility counterparts. L.A. residents are plainly fed up with the City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s incessant demands for more and higher fees and taxes without any clear explanation of why the money is needed, let alone assurances that the money will markedly increase the level and quality of services to residents. With the resistance to the tax and fee increases mounting, city officials know that sooner or later taxpayer fury could easily translate into voter fury at them. That’s probably why some City Council members say they want assurances from the DWP that the proposed rate hikes will put an end to summer brownouts and power shortages that thousands in the San Fernando Valley and other parts of the city sweltered through last summer.