Sonoma County D.A. investigators lose county car privilege

Investigators in the Sonoma County District Attorney's office were told Tuesday that they no longer will be allowed to routinely take home their work vehicles.

The issue has been simmering in a months-long dispute between District Attorney Jill Ravitch and investigators in her office.

In budget cuts enacted halfway through her first year in the elected post, Ravitch in July ended the long-standing practice of take-home vehicles for investigators.

At the time, the move was estimated to save about $6,000 annually. More recent projections show the savings could be $15,000, or more than a quarter of investigators' estimated annual vehicle costs of $53,000, county officials said.

The office's 13 rank and file investigators, however, have opposed the change, arguing it eliminated a key work tool and violated their labor contract by ending a benefit without their say.

Attempts to resolve the matter through negotiations resulted in an impasse and put the issue before the Board of Supervisors.

On Tuesday, the board sided unanimously with Ravitch after she assured supervisors that the change had not impacted investigations.

"It's unfortunate we're here today," Ravitch said at the start of her presentation to the board.

She said the cut was part of an attempt to trim fixed expenses and save positions in her office, which has a staff of more than 100 employees and a budget of $20 million.

The move would not affect an on-call investigator — a rotated, week-long post — or an off-site investigator assigned to a state-funded computer crimes task force based in Napa County, Ravitch said. It would apply to the office's chief investigator, Brian Davis, but it won't affect Ravitch, who said she commutes to work in her own vehicle.

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