Tesla announced on March 19 that it would temporarily close its California electric car plant, after going back and forth with local officials on whether the plant was subject to a provincial coronavirus shelter-in-place order. But the Silicon Valley automaker fought to keep the factory open after that announcement too, according to new emails obtained by Protocol. It also came after the county health official decided that keeping the factory open was a “public health risk.”
The emails were sent by the local police chief to Tesla’s senior policy adviser, Dan Chia. Each contains a letter commemorating the calls and virtual encounters between Tesla and local city and county officials. They help shed light on the deliberations between the company and the authorities as to whether the factory was an “essential company”, which would keep it open after the provincial (and ultimately statewide) site shelter intended to disperse of the new coronavirus.
Tesla’s argument for those local officials and for its own employees is that the company believes it should be considered “national critical infrastructure,” according to public guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA. CISA issued guidelines that indicate what it considered to be critical infrastructure in 2015 including “production of vehicles and commercial ships”. But in one March 28 memorandum Regarding the new coronavirus pandemic, vehicle production is not specifically mentioned in the “critical production” section of CISA guidelines. When Tesla raised this argument, every other major car maker stopped manufacturing in the US.
Tesla tried to convince city and county officials of this in the days leading up to the announcement of the abandonment and asked to be considered an “essential” so that the Model 3, Model S, Model X, and Model Y could continue to produce (which the company had just started to supply) at its California plant.
Kimberly Petersen, the chief of police in Fremont, California (where the factory is located), told Chia on March 18 that the county’s interim health officer had decided that the Tesla factory was not essential, according to the emails, which means it should abide by the March 16 as-in-place order and stop operations. The provincial health official also told the city that keeping the manufacturing plant open and reporting the approximately 10,000 workers would pose a “ public health risk, ” although it is unclear in the emails whether this was specifically communicated to Tesla. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The next day, Chia and several other Tesla executives told the city in a virtual meeting that the company would follow up on the order. “I would like to reiterate that the city of Fremont values Tesla as a partner and appreciates what you do for our economy and our community,” Petersen wrote in her email commemorating the meeting, which was dated March 21. “We are deeply grateful for your willingness to participate in our fight against the spread of COVID-19 by putting public health on all other priorities.”
However, later that day, Chia told the deputy city manager that he thought Petersen’s letter was “not quite right” and that the two sides had another virtual meeting on March 22. At that meeting, Tesla’s acting general adviser told the city that he believed Governor Gavin Newsom’s state-in-place order replaced the county order and that the language of the state order left room for Tesla to open. stay . In another memo sent to Tesla on March 22, Petersen writes that she nevertheless “ felt obliged to maintain ” [the county health officer’s] interpretation ”of the province-wide order.
Tesla eventually decided to continue to phase out its activities in the factory, except for basic activities such as payroll. It also told the city that it would continue to bring in some factory workers to do so-called “end-of-line” work, and Fremont police discovered that Tesla was “compliant” during a post-inspection, as it did before first reported by The edge last week.
The company has since scaled down operations at the Gigafactory in Nevada by more than 75 percent and has also closed its solar panel factory in New York. Strangely enough, Petersen told Tesla in one of the emails that if the company ‘passes'[ed] it could have kept the factory open for the manufacture of fans or other equipment designed to assist in the fight against COVID-19 ”. Tesla is currently buying and supplying urgently needed fans in California and New York along with surgical masks, and CEO Elon Musk has said he wants to make fans with the help of Medtronic. But Musk has said he plans to make the fans at Tesla’s New York factory, not California.