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Former city manager files $1-million claim against Glendale after wife's death

A former Glendale city manager, along with his two sons, filed a $1-million claim against the city last week, claiming his wife died in a wheelchair accident caused by an uneven city sidewalk, records show.

On the afternoon of March 16, James Starbird was pushing his wife, Carolyn, in a wheelchair on the 1200 block of Ethel Street when the chair hit an uplifted sidewalk, thrusting his wife forward. She struck her head on the concrete, which caused a severe concussion, and she died shortly thereafter. She was 66.

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"There're meter maids, meter readers — a lot of people who work for the city who had to have seen this elevation change in time to protect against this sort of accident," said the Starbird family's attorney Steven Glickman. "You can't have city personnel ignoring these dangerous conditions, especially with disabled people in wheelchairs."

City Atty. Mike Garcia Thursday declined to comment on the claim, other than to say it's under review. He did not know whether the city had received any complaints about that particular sidewalk prior to the incident.

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After the incident, city officials spray-painted the roughly one-and-a-quarter inch sidewalk elevation bright orange, Glickman said, adding that if something that simple had been done earlier, "this tragic accident never would've happened."

When someone reports a broken, damaged or uplifted sidewalk in Glendale, depending on the severity, crews go out within a day to ramp the tripping hazard with asphalt, according to Roubik Golanian, the city's public works director.

"We make it safe immediately," he said, adding that in a rare occasion a temporary fix won't work, the city will wait until its maintenance crews can replace the sidewalk.

He added that the City Council sets aside funding annually as part of a comprehensive sidewalk repair program.

"Depending on that amount, we do an inspection of a given district, and we hire a private contractor, and they go to work," Golanian said.

The city has 45 days to respond to the family's claim. If the city doesn't respond in that time frame, the claim is deemed rejected and the Starbirds can file a lawsuit.

"In my mind, this is a very obvious dangerous condition that the city should step up to the plate and take responsibility for," Glickman said.

James Starbird helmed Glendale City Hall for nearly 14 years until 2011, after working in the California cities of Eureka, Monrovia and West Covina.

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