City avoids fining property owners for planning code violations 

The Planning Department is not charged with fining property owners for code violations unless the owner fails to correct a violation after being asked to do so, city planning staff told their commissioners.

That enforcement approach was the subject of discussion during a recent Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Committee hearing into the Academy of Art University’s housing practices.

University officials have long agreed to work with The City to correct scores of violations related to the conversion of buildings for classroom and dormitory uses without obtaining proper permits.

“We are more and more confronted with legalizing projects which have operated for extended periods of time outside of what the code requires,” Commissioner Kathrin Moore said during a commission hearing Thursday before commissioners voted unanimously to legalize the use of two floors of a Chinatown building for a hostel. The project was not associated with the Academy of Art University.

Moore asked staff to explain why property owners are not fined for such violations.

Zoning administrator Larry Badiner said the department is simply following the planning code, which directs staff to levy fines only if an owner refuses or resists requests to bring their property into compliance with the code.

That approach was characterized by housing activists as being inappropriate in some instances during the recent Academy of Art University hearing.

“If I have a development proposal in one of your neighborhoods and I know that there’s a 50-50 chance that the Planning Commission will turn it down on a [Conditional Use Permit Application], I can go and take that chance or I can just do it illegally, wait to be caught and then ask The City to help fix it,” former city housing official Brad Paul said during the hearing.

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