SF grants another extension to Academy of Art University over code violations

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerThe City's Planning Department has not upheld city building codes for the Academy of Art University. The Planning Department has threatened to start fining the school

Earlier this year, it seemed San Francisco code enforcers had finally had enough with longtime noncomplier the Academy of Art University, issuing a directive to clean up its act or face fines.

The school has roughly 50 sites spread across The City in old churches, office buildings and other properties. After coming to an agreement with The City in the spring over code violations and a long-awaited environmental impact report, the Planning Department threatened to start fining the school for noncompliance starting Nov. 1.

“Clearly, they did not make the Nov. 1 date,” said Cindy Wu, president of the Planning Commission.

Despite that, it appears the planning deadline was not really a line in the sand after all.

“The deadline was pushed to December because while work on the [environmental review] has progressed significantly, it is not ready for publication,” said Gina Simi, a spokeswoman for the Planning Department, which expects the report to be ready by January.

“AAU has demonstrated that they are working in good faith with the Planning Department to comply with all requirements,” she said, adding that the school does not contest the notices of violation penalty.

That, however, was not always the opinion of the Planning Department.

In spring, the department said it was setting a hard deadline — Nov. 1 — for the school to get its act together.

“It is critical that these long delays in compliance by the Academy of Art come to an end,” Planning Director John Rahaim wrote in an April 11 letter to university President Elisa Stephens.

If the school failed to rectify issues at a handful of sites and did not finish an environmental impact review of its operations by Nov. 1, a daily violation of $250 for 21 properties would begin accruing Nov. 2.

“Any further delays due to the academy will not be tolerated,” code administrator Scott Sanchez said in May.

Jennifer Blott, a spokeswoman for the school, said the Nov. 1 deadline was more about when fines could start than getting things in compliance with city code.

“The City did not impose a Nov. 1, 2014 deadline for the resolution of all planning code issues at Academy of Art University properties,” she wrote in a statement. “Instead, November 1, 2014 was the first date after which the zoning administrator could consider imposing penalties on AAU.”

As for the delayed environmental review, Blott said it was not the school's fault.

“November 1 also was the date the City anticipated issuing the draft environmental impact report for university properties,” the statement said. “Due to circumstances beyond AAU's and the City's control, more time is needed to complete the Draft EIR.”

Sue Hestor, a well-known land-use lawyer, said the school has been doing all it can to stall any real review of its impacts for a long time.

“I am just relieved that we are looking at the release of the EIR,” Hestor said. The major issue she expects will be around transportation since the school's shuttles traverse The City.

The school has been given many second chances — most recently violations on 22 properties were given a stay in exchange for cooperation with The City — since Planning Department correction orders started in 2007. But most of those efforts went for naught, even as the Planning Department tried to bring the school into compliance.

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