Elon Musk’s bid to reopen Fremont Tesla plant is rebuffed; sues Alameda County

Tesla founder Elon Musk has tussled with Alameda County officials in an effort to reopen its sprawling Fremont plant on several occasions since a shelter in place was ordered in March. A plan to resume work on Friday afternoon was again rebuffed by local public health officials, leading Musk to escalate the disagreement by filing a lawsuit against the county on Saturday.

Alameda County beatThe lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court asks for an injunction against the county covid-19 shelter in place orders.

In a serious of tweets, Musk lashed out against Alameda County officials, calling Alameda County’s interim public health officer Dr. Erica Pan “unelected and ignorant.”

Musk added, “Frankly, this is the last straw,” before threatening to relocate Tesla’s headquarters to Texas or Nevada.

While some counties in the state took advantage of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order this week to allow some businesses to reopen in a limited fashion, along with some manufacturing companies, Alameda County and nearby Santa Clara County, have not yet relaxed its shelter in place order out of an abundance of caution. Covid-19 confirmed cases and deaths in Alameda County have largely plateaued over the past month.

During a virtual town hall on Friday, Pan nixed the idea of allowing Tesla to reopen its Fremont auto plant. Pan’s comments followed an email Musk sent employees notifying them of his intent to reopen the plant on Friday, although with limited numbers of employees. Last month, Musk made a similar attempt the restart the auto plant that was also unsuccessful.

The Twitter rant barrage, though, was heard clearly by Fremont officials. The Tesla factory is not only the city’s largest employer, but a source of high-paying jobs that have helped bolster the local economy. Tesla is also a major tax-producer in Alameda County, which is expected to see sharp decreases in tax receipts due to covid-19 in the short-term, and likely longer.

Fremont city leaders, however, appeared amendable to Musk’s demand to reopen the electric car plant. Fremont Mayor Lily Mei issued a statement on Saturday acknowledging Musk’s concerns and urging county health officials to take steps to allow manufacturing, like the Tesla plant, to resume with social distancing protocols.

“As the local shelter-in-place order continues without provisions for major manufacturing activity, such as Tesla, to resume, I am growing concerned about the potential implications for our regional economy.  We know many essential businesses have proven they can successfully operate using strict safety and social distancing practices.  I strongly believe these same practices could be possible for other manufacturing businesses, especially those that are so critical to our employment base,” Mei said in a statement.

“The City encourages the County to engage with our local businesses to come up with acceptable guidelines for re-opening our local economy.  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.”

Musk later thanked Mei on Twitter.

In addition, Fremont Councilmember Vinnie Bacon offered personal assistance to Musk in a tweet on Saturday morning. “Please let me know what I can do as a Fremont City Councilmember. I will be happy to advocate for Tesla’s safely reopening ASAP,” Bacon tweeted. Bacon is a candidate in the two-person November runoff for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in District 1.

The Alameda County Health Department appeared to acquiesce to Musk’s concerns on Saturday evening, telling CNN it is working to come “to an agreement on an appropriate safety plan very soon” with Tesla officials.

The sentiment was not shared by Southern California Democratic Assemblymember Lorena Gonzales, who tweeted succinctly: