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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fine with Them: Critics Laud Decision to Potentially Make Academy of Art Pay Up

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 12:35 PM

click to enlarge The Academy of Art will have to answer to the planning department before passing "Go"...
  • The Academy of Art will have to answer to the planning department before passing "Go"...
Not long ago, we wrote about how a nominal planning department policy to diligently work with those who violate city codes and laws on a "path toward legalization" could be abused by developers who had little use for city codes and laws. Specifically, both members of the planning department and critics of Academy of Art University claimed the burgeoning art/bus/real estate consortium was gaming the city's well-meaning policy.

"If you have to go before the planning commission to get a conditional

use permit and you think it's 50-50, you'd be crazy to do things that

way," former deputy mayor of housing Brad Paul told SF Weekly. "This policy allows you to break the law and then

say, 'Oh, sorry,' and work with staff and get them to do the homework."

The planning department now apparently feels the same way, having informed Academy of Art to start complying with city rulings or start paying out fines of up to $250 a day -- for myriad infractions.

"Better late than never," said longtime Academy critic Aaron Peskin, the former president of the Board of Supervisors. "This should have been done years ago. If this were any other institution, this would have been referred to the city attorney for a code compliance lawsuit years ago." 

Fellow developers -- and, really, Academy of Art can be considered as such -- also applauded the planning department's move.

"I feel that everybody should comply with the codes, especially dealing with students and life-safety issues such as exiting [the building] and seismics," said one longtime city developer. "This has been going on far too long. They have taken buildings as-is and not adapted them to the new uses, which is critical."

Academy planning director Paul Correa has not yet returned our call. School president Elisa Stephens, meanwhile, assured the planning department that she'd take care of everything -- this time definitely:

AAU letter to Planning re Enforcement 02.12.10.pdf

City planner Scott Sanchez outlined the potential pitfalls for the Academy, which essentially fall into four categories:

  • The city has determined that four buildings the Academy has obtained since first submitting an Environmental Impact Report in May of 2008 are being used improperly: "They can discontinue the use -- well, that's really the only option," Sanchez says. "Or, they can be assessed the penalties."
  • The city holds that the Academy has converted many structures to residential and classroom facilities without bothering to go through any of the steps the city mandates. A number of these structures are festooned with Academy signage: "If you don't have the underlying land-use entitlement to even occupy a building, you can't put up a sign saying 'Hey, we're here!'" Sanchez explains.
  • Signage issues are also rampant on buildings the Academy is occupying uncontroversially. But you still can't just put up a sign in this town without letting the relevant authorities weigh in.
  • Finally, the Academy has been given hard and fast deadlines to present relevant information regarding the EIR it first submitted nearly two years ago. Critics such as Paul have claimed the school has been dragging its feet in completing this EIR, as it still continues to hold classes and charge rent in buildings it may be forced to give up once the EIR is completed and the city weighs in.

The Academy has the option of appealing the city's ruling to the Board of Appeals -- which could lower the fines to no less than $100 a day. And, Sanchez adds, the Academy could also simply decide to pay the fines and continue doing what it's doing. That, he said would result in the city attorney getting called in to determine if something more than fines is called for.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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