Tesla CEO Elon Musk has reopened his primary car assembly plant in Fremont, California, defying a countywide order that restricts nonessential businesses to "minimum basic operations."
"Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me," Musk tweeted Monday afternoon.
"All other auto companies in US are approved to resume. Only Tesla has been singled out. This is super messed up!"
Workers were seen streaming in and out of the facility, which stretches over 5.3 million square feet and houses more than 10,000 workers. News reporters captured images of employee parking lots full of vehicles.
The Alameda County Public Health Department said in a statement Monday that it that learned Tesla had reopened beyond "minimum basic operations" and that it had notified the company it could not do so. The statement said the department hopes Tesla will "comply without further enforcement measures."
Alameda County District 1 Supervisor Scott Haggerty had been working with Tesla and other local officials on a plan to reopen safely. Talks had come a long way when Musk abruptly decided to reopen this week.
"It's disappointing Elon decided to move ahead today," Haggerty said. "The people we were talking with at Tesla knew they were going to open around May 18."
Haggerty said he suspects Musk wanted to open this week to have more lead time and start producing key parts that are needed before cars can be manufactured.
Musk has been locked in a battle with local authorities since March 23, when most of the factory was closed down. Musk has argued that Tesla's cars are part of "national critical infrastructure," in line with guidance from the Department of Homeland Security.
Musk has repeatedly defied the Alameda County ordinance, which was enacted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, tweeting that "the coronavirus panic is dumb." He also tweeted "FREE AMERICA NOW" in reference to reopening businesses and reversing stay-at-home orders.
On an earnings call last month, Musk railed against "fascist" stay-at-home orders. He also wrongly predicted that the U.S. would have close to zero new cases by the end of April.
On Saturday, Musk took legal action against Alameda County, threatening to move the Fremont factory out of state if he was not allowed to reopen immediately.
"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 dependent on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA," Musk tweeted.
"Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately," he posted over the weekend. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for Northern California, claims the county overstepped its authority by trying to overrule Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Last week, Newsom said some businesses, including manufacturing, could start reopening on May 8, which led Musk to inform workers that they could return Friday. The same day, Alameda County said Tesla could not reopen until May 18.
Alameda County says it is working with Tesla on a "good-faith effort to develop and implement a safety plan that allows for reopening while protecting the health and well-being of thousands of employees who travel to and from work at Tesla's factory."
Musk's disagreement with local officials comes amid an intense national debate over when to reopen the economy as businesses flounder and unemployment claims rise.
"We're paying about $1 billion a day in unemployment insurance claims," state Labor Secretary Julie Su told NBC News last month. "In California, just in the last six weeks alone, we had over 3.5 million people file for unemployment insurance. To put that in perspective, two weeks ago that was already more than we had in all of 2019."
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U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday that he agreed with Musk.
"He's one of the biggest employers and manufacturers in California, and California should prioritize doing whatever they need to do to solve those health issues so that he can open quickly and safely," Mnuchin told CNBC.
Musk stands to gain from any exit from California. If he did, indeed, relocate to Nevada or Texas, which have no income tax, he could potentially net billions of dollars over the next few years. He tweeted this month that he would be "selling almost all physical possessions" and said he "will own no house." Two of his Bel Air mansions in Los Angeles subsequently appeared on a real estate website.