Ken Carlson

July 18, 2014

Making the case for putting Tesla battery factory in Northern San Joaquin Valley

There is only an outside chance for success. But some Valley officials want to make the effort of competing for the Tesla Motors battery factory.

County Pulse

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There is only an outside chance for success. But some officials want to make the effort of competing for the Tesla Motors battery factory.

The Northern San Joaquin Valley seems a reasonable location for putting 6,500 people to work making batteries for electric cars. It’s obviously closer than out-of-state locations to Tesla’s manufacturing facilities in the Bay Area. The Valley has land and sources of renewable energy (solar and wind) that are desired to power the factory.

A Tesla mockup has made it easy to imagine a Valley location. It shows the “gigafactory” superimposed on a picture that looks like the terrain of western Stanislaus County –

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, is putting together a local working group to draw attention to possible sites in Stanislaus and Merced counties, including the expanded industrial area in west Patterson and the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater.

Those two sites have land use entitlements and presumably are large enough for the 10 million-square-foot factory. In the meantime, the Governor’s Office is working to keep the 6,500 jobs in California by offering tax breaks and other incentives to Tesla, which is based in Palo Alto.

“My hope is Tesla will see we are serious about providing the best possible place for them to make their investment,” Gray said.

Tesla could benefit from property tax breaks slipped into Assembly Bill 2389, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this month. Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Palmdale, was the chief author; Gray was a co-author. The legislation would enable local government to grant a serious tax break if Tesla made a massive investment here.

Gray said other selling points for the Valley are freeway and railroad access, plus incentives offered for reuse of former military bases.

Last month, USA Today reported that San Antonio and Reno were the top contenders for the battery plant. California was not among the four states being considered until Brown dangled the tax breaks.

Other potential sites include Mather Airport business park in Sacramento. But the permit and government approval process in California may be too slow for “fast company.” Tesla has wanted to start turning dirt this summer.

Keith Boggs, an assistant executive officer for Stanislaus County, said some of Tesla’s people are familiar with the county. A few months ago, he met with Tesla staff at the former Crows Landing Navy Base to talk about testing vehicles on the runways.

Boggs said the former Navy base is large enough for the battery plant, which apparently requires up to 800 acres. Another candidate could be the west Turlock industrial area, he said.

The massive job creator is good reason for the county to throw its hat in the ring. “Economic development is the business of the long shot,” Boggs said. “You treat every opportunity as an important possibility.”

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