The tech media world has pretty much bought billionaire Elon Musk's story that he's digging a tunnel from his home to his office at rocket maker SpaceX in Hawthorne to circumvent his plebeian daily commute on the 405.

After tweeting in January that he was going to “build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging,” Musk followed up a few weeks later by stating there was “exciting progress on the tunnel front” and that there was a “plan to start digging in a month or so.'' Since then Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek and the U.K.'s Daily Mail have captured photos of apparent tunneling on the grounds of SpaceX. The Verge ran a photo of a boring machine tweeted by Musk, reporting that the device would help create a “test tunnel.”

The publications appear to have taken the imagery to mean that Musk is following through with his promise to eventually build a private commuter tunnel to his Bel-Air home. “It’s time to take Elon Musk seriously and literally,” Wired stated.

But according to documents L.A. Weekly obtained through a California Public Records Act request, SpaceX has been planning since at least summer to build not a commuter tunnel to Bel-Air but a pedestrian tunnel from its One Rocket Road office to its employee parking garage across the street. The 50-foot-long tunnel would span busy Crenshaw Boulevard, according to the documents.

And even that relatively short tunnel is proving to be a headache.

In an email dated Jan. 27, Hawthorne's city manager, Arnold Shadbehr, warned SpaceX's senior director of facilities and construction, Brett Horton, that the firm needs permission from the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) before it can start digging. “We will submit to Cal/OSHA for the tunnel when we have a path of travel,” Horton responded. “For now, just a hole in our ground.”

Shadbehr responded that a tunnel plan will require a filing with the city that would trigger a “30-day public hearing period” so neighbors can weigh in on the proposed construction. He also stated that even if SpaceX is just digging a hole, it “better” get Cal/OSHA's blessing for any excavation deeper than 5 feet.

The documents show that the planned tunnel would be 15 to 20 feet below ground and 30 feet wide.

Cal/OSHA spokesman Frank Polizzi said last week that permission has not been granted. “Cal/OSHA has not received any contact” from SpaceX, he says. “They had no contact with the county, another step in the tunneling process.”
The records request also turned up a 2015 letter from Cal/OSHA stating that SpaceX's “annual trench excavation/activity permit” would expire on July 27, 2015. No other documents showed that it was renewed.

County authorities, Hawthorne officials and SpaceX did not respond to L.A. Weekly's requests for a comment.

Cal/OSHA's Polizzi explained that state law regulates tunnel construction. “Before tunneling is done, certain heath and safety requirements have to be met for the workers and for the surrounding area,” he said. “Soil analysis and geological reports have to be submitted.”

Credit: City of Hawthorne/L.A. Weekly

Credit: City of Hawthorne/L.A. Weekly

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.