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The City of Portland, Oregon

Archives & Records Management

Office of the City Auditor

phone: 503-865-4100


1800 SW 6th Ave, Suite 550, Portland, OR 97201

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What Exactly is an Ordinance?


Ordinances are one of the ways the City does its business.  The official definition is as follows (to learn more about how Council works click here):

Ordinances are formal documents which carry the binding force of law and are passed by the Council in accordance with rules set forth in the City Charter.  Two kinds of Ordinances, emergency and non-emergency, appear on the Agenda.  Emergency Ordinances, designated in the Agenda by an asterisk preceding the agenda number, require a unanimous vote with at least four Council members present to vote.  Non-emergency ordinances come before Council twice and go into effect 30 days after passage by Council.  Public testimony is generally taken only at the first reading and the vote is taken at the second reading.   Only three votes are needed for approval.

Ordinances are also a great way to learn about how the City government functions (what exactly is the city’s business) and the City and its citizen’s priorities over time.  I see ordinances as some of the building blocks of our City; some are sweeping in their scope while most are small but important steps.

In terms of sweeping change check out Ordinance 7263 that changed street names after the 1892 consolidation or Ordinance 61325 which set up the current grid and numbering system and changed street names (for more information about the current grid and number system you can view or download this report – more on reports later). Regarding structural change of a different kind see Ordinance 17410 that authorized the hiring of the first female police officer.

For important smaller steps from the late 1800's check out Ordinance 310 which provided for the location of shade and ornamental trees in the streets of City of Portland and Ordinance 404 that authorized the purchase of a steam fire engine for use of Protection Engine Co. No. 4.

Many ordinances have been scanned are available to read and download from our online database like this one about accepting a land grant to increase the area of Forest Park (Ordinance 146520 - click on the magnifying glass icon to view the file).  To search for other ordinances go to Efiles.


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