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How Academy of Art University gets away with murder in San Francisco

Friday, November 16, 2012

Academy of Art President Elisa Stephens is flanked by former Mayor Willie Brown and current Mayor Ed Lee at a May luncheon at the Cannery, which is owned by the academy. Photo: Randy Brooke / AAU / SF

Sometimes a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. That’s Academy of Art University president Elisa Stephens flanked by Chronicle columnist Willie Brown and Mayor Ed Lee in a photo that appears in a Chronicle piece about the university’s years-long habit of flaunting San Francisco land use laws. The latest news hook: City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s “confidential” letter to planning director John Rahaim, obtained by the Chronicle’s John Cote. (Think Claude Rains’ famous line from Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”) As the city’s largest property owner, the school has made an art of acquiring and illegally converting buildings for classrooms and housing for years, its critics insist.

Herrera accuses Academy of Art of “obfuscation and delay” in abiding by the law, and tells Rahaim: “I find it inexcusable that despite the (academy’s) repeated disregard of you, your department, and the laws you are charged to enforce, you would allow the (academy) to continue to violate the law without consequence.”

Maybe the city attorney needs to look again at the top photo?

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