The pop of punctured tires and the hiss of escaping air have become common sounds at the corner of Santa Monica and Sawtelle boulevards in West Los Angeles.
More than 50 cars have fallen victim to a row of steel tire shredders aimed at stopping them from exiting the Key Shopping Center parking lot onto busy Sawtelle Boulevard.
Angry customers say the spikes are improperly marked and they have asked the owner, Key Centers Inc. of Canoga Park, to pay for their new tires. Company officials have refused.
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation ordered the small shopping center to install the spikes and, despite the rash of flat tires, has denied the company's request that they be removed.
"We definitely do not want the spikes there," said Jeff Susa, who manages the center. "We know there is a problem."
Susa said customers are surprised by the spikes. "People should be able to read the warning sign," he said, "but they are just not used to it. They are used to spikes keeping them from going in, but not from leaving a parking lot."
Problems began in October, when drivers leaving the cramped parking lot first plowed over the tire shredders. Many who have met the same fate blamed a warning sign that stated: "DANGER. SEVERE TIRE DAMAGE. DO NOT ENTER."
The sign was poorly worded, according to attorney Steven Howard. "It says do not enter," Howard said, "but I was not entering. I was driving out of there. The sign is absolutely wrong I saw the sign and I said 'no problem' and just drove right into them (the spikes)."
Howard lost two $100 tires Jan. 3 and is representing himself and two other drivers in an attempt to get the center to pay for the tires.
The sign has been changed to "DO NOT EXIT" and a second sign with the same warning has been added.
At least five cars a week fall victim to the spikes, according to Ken Shaian, a mechanic at the service station across the street. "If they are lucky it is just two tires, but a lot of the time it is all four," Shaian said. The spikes destroyed all six tires on a delivery truck.
Shaian is sick of fixing punctures.
"I hate that business," he said. "It is not worth it to me to fix the tires. I can make more money on other things."
If the new signs do not bring down the tire mortality rate, city transportation officials might remove the shredders and close the driveway, according to transportation engineer Howard Woo. That would leave one driveway for the 14-car parking lot.
Transportation department planners decided to require the spikes last year because signs failed to stop drivers from leaving parking lots by the wrong driveway, Woo said.
"That driveway on Sawtelle is supposed to be for entrance only," Woo said. "There would be more congestion in the intersection or more accidents if the tire shredders were not there."
Two small Westside shopping centers planned for the corners of Sawtelle and Venice Boulevard and Santa Monica and Westgate Avenue will also be required to install tire shredders, Woo said.