By Russ Mitchell Los Angeles Times
Tesla will move its headquarters out of California “immediately” to Nevada or Texas, Elon Musk said via tweet Saturday morning.
In the same Twitter message, he threatened to abandon the company’s Fremont auto assembly plant, depending “on how Tesla is treated in the future.” In another, he said he would sue the county authorities.
His ire was roused by Alameda County, which ordered him not to reopen the Tesla plant until county public health officials lifted restrictions. Current county stay-at-home orders addressing the COVID-19 pandemic run through May 31, although that date could change depending on infection data.
The Tesla chief executive had told staff to prepare for a Friday afternoon factory reopening, in defiance of the court order. Shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, the county issued a statement directed specifically at Tesla, stating the company “must not reopen” the plant.
The plant has been shut down since March 23. Like other companies, shutdowns have caused financial stress at Tesla as public health authorities attempt to balance protecting people from spread of the disease with the deleterious economic effects of business closure.
Musk engaged in a series of tweets with Tesla fans Saturday morning, in which he called the county action “the final straw.”
Musk has tangled with county officials before. After a joint six-county Bay Area stay at home order on March 16, including Alameda, Musk kept the plant open for nearly another week, until Fremont city police intervened.
Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately.
Musk tweeted Saturday morning that the “unelected & ignorant ‘Interim Health Officer’ of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!” The target of that tweet apparently was Elaine Pan, interim head of the Alameda County Public Health Department, a physician with decades of experience in infectious disease.
Neither Pan nor Tesla responded to immediate requests for comment.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has eased statewide orders that had blocked manufacturing, but individual counties can set stricter standards. The Bay Area orders are among the strictest in the state.
Tesla employs about 20,000 workers in California, about half at its Fremont factory. Its headquarters are in Palo Alto, near Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Moving the entire headquarters with its executives and software programmers would be a major undertaking, although Musk himself could set up a new headquarters with a skeleton crew in short order.
Musk already is been planning new factories to supplement Fremont, although he hasn’t identified where the money to build them will come from. Besides a China plant, Musk plans an auto assembly plant in Germany and has hinted he’ll build a new plant in Texas, perhaps to build an electric pickup truck. The company has a major battery factory in Nevada, outside Reno.
A business exodus has been underway from California to Texas for years, but the reasons tend to revolve around taxes, labor costs and housing prices rather than disputes over public health.
In his Saturday tweets, Musk said the company’s experience setting up safety procedures in Shanghai during the coronavirus outbreak in China means it knows how to make Fremont safe, too.
“Tesla knows far more about what needs to be done to be safe through our Tesla China factory experience than an (unelected) interim junior officer in Alameda County,” he tweeted.
In a conference call with analysts on April 29, Musk referred to stay-at-home orders as “fascist.” As the virus began spreading through the U.S., Musk tweeted on March 6 that “The coronavirus panic is dumb.”