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Elon Musk threatens to move Tesla production out of California over stay-at-home order

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Elon Musk

FILE – In this Jan. 19, 2020, file photo Elon Musk, founder, CEO, and chief engineer/designer of SpaceX speaks during a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The meteoric rise of Tesla shares that pushed the company’s value over $100 billion could turn into a supercharged payday for CEO Elon Musk. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

(CBS) — Elon Musk on Saturday filed a lawsuit against California’s Alameda County to reopen the Fremont Tesla plant despite the stay-at-home order. He also threatened to move Tesla production to Nevada or Texas.

Musk tweeted “Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately. The unelected & ignorant ‘Interim Health Officer’ of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!” Musk then wrote “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 [sic] on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.”

In an e-mail sent Thursday night, Musk called 30% of the Tesla Fremont factory workforce back to the plant to start making cars, saying Governor Gavin Newsom’s order permitted it, CBS San Francisco reports.

But the northern California plant was shuttered March 23 under a six-county order in the San Francisco area, which has been extended through May 31. Newsom has said local orders supersede the state ones.

“Based upon conditions on the ground … I want to thank the local health directors in the Bay Area for doing what they think is right for their communities,” Newsom said in a news conference Friday.

Fremont Mayor Lily Mei issued a statement Saturday saying Fremont, a city of over 230,000, is encouraging the county to “engage with local businesses to come up with acceptable guidelines for re-opening our local economy.” She said 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.”

In a statement, Alameda County said the Health Care Services Agency and Public Health Department have been working with Tesla to come up with a plan to reopen safely. “The team at 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,” Alameda County said.

Musk has been critical of California’s stay-at-home order before. During an April 29 call, Musk called social distancing measures “fascist” and said they posed a “serious risk” to Tesla.

“If somebody wants to stay in their house, that’s great,” Musk said, according to a recording of the call reviewed by CBS News. “They can stay in their house and they should not be compelled to leave. But to say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist. This is not democratic, this is not freedom. Give people back their gd* freedom.”

Despite Musk’s threat, it would be costly and difficult to quickly shift production from Fremont to Texas or Nevada, CBS San Francisco reports. The Fremont facility, which was formerly run jointly by General Motors and Toyota, is currently Tesla’s only U.S. vehicle assembly plant. The company would lose critical production if it shut the plant down to move equipment.

“Moving away from Fremont would take at least 12 to 18 months and could add risk to the manufacturing and logistics process in the meantime,” Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note to investors.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, meanwhile, tweeted Saturday that the state would “welcome Tesla HQ.”

“We love jobs & Texans very much want to open up & get back to work (while still staying safe & following sound science),” Cruz wrote. “We make lots of cars & trucks in Texas, and we’d love more!!”

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