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Elon Musk isn’t taking it anymore

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is no Paul Revere. But his defiance of Alameda County’s shutdown order captures the frustration among businesses like Howard Beale’s primal scream in the movie “Network.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week allowed some non-essential businesses to begin to reopen, but six Bay Area counties including Alameda, where Tesla assembles most of its electric cars in the U.S., doubled down on their lockdowns.

“Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately,” Mr. Musk tweeted Saturday. “If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen (sic) on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.”

A decade ago Mr. Musk rescued and retrofitted an auto-manufacturing plant in Fremont that Toyota had abandoned. The plant now employs 10,000 middle-class workers, many of whom live in rural San Joaquin County where another Tesla factory has been allowed to operate amid California’s shutdown because it is classified as essential.

“This disparate (government) treatment is arbitrary and without a rational basis,” Tesla states in a lawsuit against Alameda County, pointing out that the infection and fatality rates in Alameda and San Joaquin counties are similar. Mr. Musk also argues that Tesla is an essential business because it makes electric motors and battery systems that are “critical infrastructure.”

“The County’s order violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it fails to give reasonable notice to persons of ordinary intelligence of what is forbidden under the law,” the lawsuit argues. He has a point, and arbitrary government distinctions about which businesses can stay open often seem to be based on politics rather than public health or science.

You can understand Mr. Musk’s frustration when Alameda County officials have allowed pot shops to stay open while shuttering his Tesla plant though the company has developed protocols to protect workers. Other governors including Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer have given the green light to auto plants run by Tesla’s competitors.

Mr. Musk dared Alameda officials to arrest him when he reopened Tesla’s plant Monday, and he may get his wish. We don’t encourage lawbreaking, but a legal test of disparate lockdown treatment might rein in the inner dictators who are appearing in many places in America in these pandemic days.

* Guest editorial from The Wall Street Journal.

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