TESLA

(Photo - Jannis Lucas)

Electric vehicle maker Tesla this week reopened its assembly plant in Fremont, defying orders from Alameda County to remain closed because of COVID-19 concerns.

Tesla also filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the county over the weekend for refusing to authorize the company to resume operations at the plant, which was shut down March 23, along with most manufacturing in the state. Alameda County recently extended the shutdown through May.

Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive officer, is also threatening to move Tesla headquarters from Fremont to Texas or Nevada.

“I’m not messing around,” Musk said on Twitter, calling the county’s refusal, “Absurd and medically irrational behavior in violation of constitutional civil liberties, moreover by ‘unelected’ county officials with no accountability...”

Musk accused interim Alameda County health officer Dr. Erica Pan of a “power grab” and acting contrary to guidelines issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom to ease COVID-19 restrictions on businesses. He added that whether the company continues to build electric vehicles in Fremont depends “on how Tesla is treated in the future.”

Alameda County responded in a news release that the county’s health care services agency and public health department have been “working closely with the Tesla team on the ground in Fremont. 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 county added that “Tesla has been responsive to our guidance and recommendations, and we look forward to coming to an agreement on an appropriate safety plan very soon.”

Tesla reported it had worked out a return-to-work plan that includes online video training for personnel, work zone partitions, temperature screening, requirements to wear protective equipment and rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

The governor’s office recently unveiled a strategy to gradually reopen the state, including most manufacturing. But the state plan also allowed counties to “continue more restrictive measures in place based on their local conditions.”

In its lawsuit, Tesla argues the county’s original shutdown order ignored the governor’s original guidelines that considered transportation to be an essential business and notes that one of the company’s facilities in neighboring San Joaquin County has now been allowed to resume operation.

“There is no rational basis for this disparate treatment of two neighboring Tesla facilities both operating in federal critical infrastructure sectors,” the company said.

The company said it had worked out a thorough return-to-work plan that includes online video training for personnel, work zone partition areas, temperature screening, requirements to wear protective equipment and rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

Fremont Mayor Lily Mei also expressed concern last week about the potential economic implications of continuing the shelter-in-place order in Alameda County without provisions for manufacturers such as Tesla to resume. Last year, Tesla built nearly half a million vehicles at the Fremont plant.

In addition to its assembly facility in Fremont, Tesla maintains more than 1.3 million square feet of warehouse facilities in Livermore.