Under a proposal that goes before the Board of Supervisors today, Ventura County may become the first local government in California to prohibit most of its agencies from buying or using sport utility vehicles.

Supervisor Steve Bennett said it would be another way to reduce emissions and save money.

A similar proposal was signed last month by former governor Gray Davis and was to take effect in January 2005. It required state agencies to justify a "critical need" for an SUV or four-wheel-drive vehicle. Police and other emergency services using the state's 73,000-vehicle fleet are exempt.

The proposal comes as critics, such as the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, press auto manufacturers to reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency.

Last year, Ventura County supervisors ordered fleet managers to begin replacing their sedans with hybrid-electric vehicles.

However, the county has just 26 hybrids in its 1,500-vehicle fleet. Tony Patton, the county's fleet manager says that current hybrid models are too small for government use and they must wait until current vehicles wear out before replacing them with more fuel-efficient models.

According to the Los Angeles Times SUVs make up about 25 percent of all new-vehicle purchases in the U.S., but obtain minimal fuel effiency. For instance, the Ford Explorer gets about 15 mpg; a medium-size sedan gets 23 mpg. A Honda Hybrid averages 36 mpg and a Prius, 43 mpg.

Ford is planning production of a hybrid version of its Escape mini SUV next year, which fleet services plan to buy.

Sherriff Bob Brooks defends his department's use of 36 SUVs saying they are used to patrol rugged terrain unaccessible to standard patrol cars. However, most are used by field supervisors to carry equipment to crime scene investigations.

According to Brian Kelly, policy consultant for state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, a standard fleet vehicle costs $9,000 less than an SUV and would save $14 million over four years.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials