Elon Musk astroturfing? SpaceX employees spoke at Boring Company town hall

It could be a conflict of interest if Musk is paying all their salaries.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read
San Francisco Giants v. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Boring Company is proposing an underground transport system linking Dodger Stadium to the rest of Los Angeles.

Rob Leiter/Getty Images

You might have heard that Elon Musk's Boring Company wants to dig a short underground tunnel to Los Angeles' Dodgers Stadium.

Well, the Boring Company held a town meeting at the stadium on Tuesday night to let the public tell the City of Los Angeles what they thought of the proposal -- but at least two of the citizens who spoke out work for SpaceX, one of Musk's other companies.

This was first discovered by independent filmmaker Erin Faulk, @erinscafe on Twitter, who attended the meeting with her nephew:

According to LinkedIn profiles, Hailey Cockrum is listed as a Materials Planner for SpaceX, while Chris Charhut is listed as a Process Development Engineer.

The Boring Company confirmed to CNET that both work for SpaceX, but says no one was compensated or otherwise encouraged to attend. A Boring Company representative provided this statement:

Employees of SpaceX spoke - not with our advance knowledge or at our urging - because they support the project as private citizens. If we had known they were planning to speak we would have asked them to identify themselves as SpaceX employees to avoid any confusion. If our goal was actually to overwhelm the meeting with support we would have done a much better job, given SpaceX has over 5,000 local employees.  

It's true that if SpaceX wanted to astroturf, it could have done more -- as comedian John Oliver explained earlier this month​, astroturfing has gotten pretty sophisticated and often hard to identify.

But it doesn't mean that these people weren't effective. You might think that two employees out of the 56,000 who could fit into Dodger Stadium wouldn't be a big deal. But according to local broadcaster CBS Los Angeles, only around 50 people attended this event -- and those two employees' statements on camera both made the evening news. (Disclosure: CBS is CNET's parent company.)

The third adult who appeared on the CBS Los Angeles broadcast is Erin Faulk, who first discovered that SpaceX employees were in attendance, and has since apparently discovered that a former SpaceX employee, Scott Nolan, spoke in favor of the project as well.

She says that only nine people stood up to comment on the project, including those three people. 

CBS Los Angeles reports that the autonomous underground shuttle will only be able to transport eight to 16 people at a time, for a total of as few as 1,400 people per game -- out of the 46,000 on average who attend games at Dodger Stadium.

"I thought it sounded kind of silly before, but now I'm convinced it's ridiculous," Faulk told CNET. "The desperate attempts to show how it's going to help people in Los Angeles are kind of transparent. It has such a narrow scope and use."

Faulk originally suggested that so few people showed up because the Boring Company and City of Los Angeles only announced the meeting 12 hours ahead of time, but that isn't accurate -- a notice circulating as early as Aug. 16 includes the date and time of the meeting. The Boring Company says it followed standard CEQA procedure by placing ads in five newspapers, one of them Spanish.

It won't be the public's only opportunity to comment, either. The City of Los Angeles is accepting comments through Sept. 17, and you can find instructions here.

SpaceX didn't immediately comment.

Originally published 11:56 a.m. PT.

Update, 1:25 p.m. PT: Added that a third, ex-SpaceX employee may also have spoken at the meeting. Clarified when the Boring Company first gave notice of the meeting at Dodger Stadium.

Update, 4:52 p.m. PT: Added Boring Company statement.

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