Paul Correa Navigates the Planning & Zoning Channels for Academy Facilities

Paul Correa of the Academy of Art University

Paul Correa of the Academy of Art University. Photo by Bob Toy.

[Paul Correa] Last December I applied for a permit from San Francisco’s Planning Department for a bench outside our building at 410 Bush Street. Getting a permit for a bench doesn’t sound like a big deal. But this short story says a lot about how we work with the city — and what I do.

We discovered in October that we needed a permit to install the bench on the sidewalk outside our building, which houses classrooms, studios, offices and a gallery. The problem was, by the time we found we had to have a permit, the bench was already there. We removed it, and then I had discussions with city staff about how and where it should be located. Once we had the details, I had our civil engineer draft the required drawings, and I prepared and filed the application. If Planning approves our application, we’ll reinstall the bench — with the proper permit.

The Academy's building at 410 Bush Street — without bench. Photo by Paul Correa.

The Academy building at 410 Bush — bench removed. Photo by Paul Correa.

My title is project manager, and my job is to direct all internal land use and planning activities related to the school’s properties. This involves transportation issues as well as buildings, and I’m the point person for interacting with city departments — like Planning — that deal with permitting and land use issues. I also work with city and county commissions and elected officials. Because we’ve grown so significantly in employment and students, we’ve had a lot of work to do so the buildings we need for teaching and housing students are safe and meet all the code and permitting requirements.

As the interface between the school and City Hall, I’m responsible for making sure we know what the needs are and how to get things done at City Hall. It’s pretty much a never-ending job for some requirements like life/safety and seismic issues, because building and construction standards are constantly evolving as cities and facility managers learn how to make buildings safer.

A good example is the school’s building at 2151 Van Ness, the former St. Bridget’s church. It was dilapidated, leaking and slated for demolition when the Academy acquired it in 2005. The former owners couldn’t afford the very expensive seismic retrofit it needed, and other buyers weren’t interested for the same reason. In 2005 and ’06, our contractor cleaned up the water damage and did asbestos abatement. That was phase one. In phase two we filed our permit application for seismic upgrading; this was July of 2006. In February 2009, the historic commission granted a certificate of appropriateness for the retrofitting work and ADA improvements … actually all the improvements at that site. We’re planning on starting the seismic work at the end of spring semester. So the work has been going on for 2-1/2 or 3 years. Because it’s a historical building, the process of applying and reviewing the plans to get permits and begin work is challenging and time-consuming. But otherwise it’s typical of the effort that goes into making sure our buildings are safe and meet code. And it will be worth the effort to save a beautiful historic building that was endangered.

As I said, in my work I build relationships with public bodies. We’ve been working with the SFCTA, the San Francisco County Transit Authority, to refine the university’s approach to all transportation issues, including our “green” buses that take students back and forth to class. The coordination helps us match our routes and utilization with what the SFCTA provides, so both parties are more efficient and effective. We submitted our Transportation Management Plan back in September, and that was a major undertaking. The city’s reviewing it now, and we’re continuing to work on refining it.

I have a degree in Urban Planning and Development — a master’s from Berkeley — and a master’s in Education Policy from Harvard. I have an extensive background in land use and public policy, and I’ve been a city planner. It helps when it comes to the day-to-day work as well as the big jobs like preparing the Institutional Master Plan, which has to be updated every two years, and our Environmental Impact Report, which may be the biggest environmental review ever done in the city — this kind of project can take 36 months or more.

Right now we’re working on a number of signage violations — some of these are for buildings with existing signs with permits that expired and only need to be renewed — and we have 14 buildings that need a Conditional Use Permit for change of use. We have another six or seven buildings that need standard building permits for change of use. The city has a lot of work to do, too, reviewing and processing our filings. It all takes time to complete.

I report directly to President Elisa Stephens, and I communicate with her daily on the progress we’re making on permits and coordination with City Hall. So I was happy to hear her say recently, “If there are any disputes, we will work them out.” I appreciate the fact that she’s totally behind our efforts to resolve all the issues.

I really enjoy working in a field that deals with community development and the built environment. It’s what I went to school for. I’m up thinking about it some nights, but that makes it exciting, too — how you put together a plan that resolves all the issues and satisfies multiple stakeholders. It’s fun.

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