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The City of Portland, Oregon

Planning and Sustainability

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How are decisions balanced?

With all legislative changes and some quasi‐judicial decisions, the decision‐maker must document how the proposed decision complies with the Comprehensive Plan’s policies.

A decision “complies” if it can be found to be equally or more supportive of the existing Plan as a whole. If these findings cannot be made, City Council has two choices: to not make the change, or to amend the Plan to allow the change. However, the reverse is not true; Council is not compelled to make a decision just because it would meet Plan policy. 

The Comprehensive Plan contains a broad range of policies for Council to consider. Each policy describes a desirable outcome. But it is unlikely that all policies are relevant to a particular decision and that a particular decision could be expected to advance all of the policies in the Plan equally well. For this reason, policies are examined for their applicability to the decision at hand, and only applicable policies are considered. Council must then weigh and balance applicable policies to determine whether a particular decision would “on the whole” comply with the Comprehensive Plan.

In virtually all decisions, some applicable policies will weigh — or matter — more than others. For example, a policy that specifically addresses the topic or location of the change being made would probably outweigh a policy that applies to a wide variety of topics or to the city as a whole. Most policies begin with a verb, and some verbs establish stronger imperatives than others. Accordingly, a policy to “require” something may outweigh a policy to “encourage” something else. 

But even the strongest policies do not automatically trump other policies. Every decision is different, with different facts. The particular policies that matter more will change from one decision to another. There is no set formula — no particular number of “heavier” policies equals a larger set of “lighter” policies. In cases where there are competing directions embodied by different policies, City Council may choose the direction they believe best embodies the plan as a whole.

The Vision and Guiding Principles in this Comprehensive Plan help to provide additional guidance when policies are balanced. Council ordinances do, however, contain a “conclusion on law” explaining how complementary and competing policies have been weighed and balanced in determining whether the proposed decision complies with the Comprehensive Plan.