In a heated Twitter rant Saturday morning, Tesla CEO Elon Musk threatened to move his company’s operations out of the Bay Area and sue Alameda County “immediately” for not easing stay-home orders due to COVID-19 that have shuttered his carmaking business. Later, Musk made good on the threat and filed a lawsuit against the county.
“Frankly, this is the final straw,” Musk tweeted. “Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen (sic) on how Tesla is treated in the future.”
In announcing the lawsuit against Alameda County, Musk berated the county’s interim health officer, Dr. Erica Pan, for “acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!”
Another of Musk’s responses said Tesla, headquartered in Palo Alto, knows “far more about what needs to be done to be safe” from its China factory — where the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have originated — than an “(unelected) interim junior official,” referring to Alameda County’s top health official. He encouraged followers to voice their opposition to the county.
Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 9, 2020
There were 2,013 cases and 71 deaths from the novel coronavirus in Alameda County as of Saturday, health data showed. Fremont had 115 cases alone.
Musk’s announcements Saturday followed his prolonged criticism of the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place orders intended to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, even calling the measures “fascist” in an earnings call in late April, according to CBS News.
After Gov. Gavin Newsom peeled back some restrictions under the state’s stay-at-home order effective Friday, Musk hoped to restart carlines for electric vehicles since they stopped operating March 23. But Pan said Tesla did not have the “green light” to do so, CNBC reported.
Newsom allowed some retailers and other small businesses to reopen under certain restrictions Friday, but said local governments can retain stricter measures. Santa Clara and Alameda counties, along with several Bay Area governments, reaffirmed health orders will remain in effect through May, which don’t allow retail and associated manufacturing and logistics the governor outlined to reopen.
Tesla released a plan for reopening facilities and confirmed it filed a lawsuit against the county in a blog post Saturday evening.
In the 18-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court for California’s Northern District, which is hearing civil cases remotely through May, Musk’s attorneys claimed Tesla is one of the 16 essential businesses allowed to continue operating under Newsom’s order.
Alameda County, the complaint alleges, is defying the state order by forcing Tesla to remain closed, and also “offends” federal and state laws by violating the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses, as well as California’s constitutional limitations overriding counties’ lawmaking.
“Alameda County thus arrogated to itself the power to force closure of businesses that the state government had ordered could remain open because they are federally-defined ‘critical infrastructure’ serving vital security, safety, or economic needs of Californians,” the suit said.
In a statement Saturday, Alameda County officials said they’ve been working closely with Tesla staff at its Fremont plant. “This has been a collaborative, good faith effort to develop and implement a safety plan that allows for reopening while protecting the health and well-being of the thousands of employees who travel to and from work at Tesla’s factory,” the statement said.
The county statement went on, “It is our collective responsibility to move through the phases of reopening and loosening the restrictions of the Shelter-in-Place Order in the safest way possible, guided by data and science.”
With more than 10,000 workers, Tesla’s Fremont factory produces every Model S, X and 3 car and also makes the vast majority of vehicle components, according to the company’s website. Bloomberg reported Tesla has battery manufacturing in Nevada and some staff based in Texas, though Musk has suggested making another plant in the latter state.
Electric cars are California’s second largest export, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Tesla is one of Alameda County’s largest employers.
Soon after Musk’s threats, Fremont Mayor Lily Mei said she was growing concerned about the county shelter-in-place order’s effects on the regional economy, particularly without provisions for manufacturing such as Tesla.
“The City encourages the County to engage with our local businesses to come up with acceptable guidelines for re-opening our local economy,” Mei said in a statement. “As we have done for over a decade, the City is prepared to support Tesla as soon as they are able to resume automobile manufacturing operations and are committed to a thoughtful, balanced approach to this effort that remains safe for our Fremont community.”
Linking the statement in his replies, Musk tweeted, “Thanks Mayor Mei!”
Palo Alto Mayor here. I would be really sad and disappointed if @Tesla left @cityofpaloalto, and stand ready to help. I truly appreciate having a cutting edge company based here, employing people, paying taxes, and helping to solve the climate crisis. Happy to help @elonmusk. https://t.co/LYsu0gbPfa
— Adrian M. Fine (@adrianfine) May 9, 2020
Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine appealed directly to Musk on Twitter Saturday afternoon.
“I truly appreciate having a cutting edge company based here, employing people, paying taxes, and helping to solve the climate crisis,” Fine tweeted. “Happy to help @elonmusk,” to which the Tesla CEO later replied, “Much appreciated, Mayor Fine!”
Contact Eduardo Cuevas at email@example.com or follow @eduardomcuevas on Twitter.
Tesla v Alameda County Complaint copy