The City of Chico's draft general plan opens with the darndest thing: a sustainability element.

Every staff report to the City Council contains a section detailing the proposed action's potential impact on climate. The city has been a signatory to the U.S. Conference of Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement since 2006. With the assistance of Chico State students, the city has inventoried greenhouse gas emissions citywide, and the city has committed to cutting those emissions to 25 percent less than 2005 levels by 2020. Although such things closely divided the City Council at first, recent votes for climate protection have been 6-1.

These were among the things I learned during the Great Valley Center's annual Sacramento Valley Forum at Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico on October 27. Speaking on a panel about greenhouse gas reduction strategies, Mayor Ann Schwab was clearly proud of Chico's leadership role. The approximately 75 people at the forum applauded the city's efforts.

After the forum, I drove north, deep into the most politically conservative corner of California. The "Yes on 23" signs, both formal and homemade, proliferated along highways and farm roads. So did the placards for Meg and Carly. As I drove, I wondered whether Chico's climate sensitivity could ever find a home in the cities and rural counties of what locals call "The North State."

Yet, only one day earlier, the Tehama County Board of Supervisors had adopted an air pollution fee on new development. The indirect source fee will start at $172 for a new house, and double to $344 in 2012. To offset air pollution caused by new houses and commercial and industrial structures, the fee will fund projects such as road paving, bus shelters to make transit more appealing, bike lanes, and woodstove replacement.

I recognize that adopting a small fee in order to reduce fine particulate matter emissions and ozone precursor gases is a long way from making sustainability your general plan cornerstone. Still, Tehama County is the sort of place where people drive a diesel pickup truck to their house on a gravel road, and spark the woodstove as soon as they get home. The Tehama County seat of Red Bluff is not Chico, a college town with extensive bike lanes and a 360-employee brewery that gets nearly all of its power from bio-gas fuel cells and the sun.

Thus, the Board of Supervisors' 4-1 vote for an air pollution mitigation fee stands as a progressive move. Does it suggest the mayor of Red Bluff – or of Redding or Yreka – will soon be signing the Climate Protection Agreement? Probably not. But I can't deny that concern over climate change and related environmental issues will continue to sneak onto the agenda in unsuspecting places – no matter what happens in the November 2 election's aftermath.

– Paul Shigley