Academy of Art racks up building violations

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is urging the San Francisco Planning Department to enforce The City’s land use laws and issue penalties against Academy of Art University for its numerous outstanding violations at its buildings across The City.

Academy of Art University, a large for-profit art school with more than 18,000 students, has acquired dozens of buildings since it was established in 1929. Among the most historical buildings bought up by the university is St. Brigid Church on Van Ness Avenue in Nob Hill, dating back to 1902.

The stone exterior of the church was declared a landmark in 2007, a year after Academy of Art University acquired it, according to the Committee to Save St. Brigid Church. The group is now fighting to make the interior of the church a city landmark as well.

Another historical landmark acquired by Academy of Art University is a building that formerly housed the San Francisco Young Women’s Christian Association, located downtown on Sutter Street near Union Square. The building houses students now and the academy continues to use the indoor pool and fitness gym, according to the university’s website.

However, these two buildings, and 20 others owned by the academy are in violation of The City’s building codes, according to Herrera.

Last week, Herrera sent a letter to John Rahaim, the director of The City’s Planning Department, expressing his concerns the academy has received:

“… unprecedented extensions and accommodations, despite the AAU’s long-outstanding violations of law.”

Herrera said the academy has missed a deadline set by the Planning Department for completion of an environmental impact report to address the zoning violations, yet AAU continues to occupy buildings and use properties without penalty while in violation of The City’s Planning Code.

He said the lack of enforcement by the Planning Department:

“… undermines and jeopardizes The City and County of San Francisco’s … enforcement efforts and suggests that AAU is above the law.”

Herrera said more than three years have passed since the department first notified the academy regarding its violations and that almost two years have passed since the department issued and stayed notices of violations and penalties against the academy at all properties that were out of compliance.

The City attorney said that if the academy fails to complete the draft environmental impact report within 60 days of his letter to the department, he would request a hearing with the board of supervisors to discuss the situation.