The American Dream, Dade County style: A chicken in every pot, two cars in every garage -- and royal palms on every street.
Driven by Metro commissioners, the county is on a palm- buying spree, spending millions of dollars in gasoline taxes to green county roadways. Since last summer, the greening of Dade has cost more than $7 million for thousands of trees that have popped up from Miami Gardens Drive in North Dade to Avocado Drive in Homestead.
The trees are like political bacon, brought home by commissioners to their districts.
"The palms are a tangible way of showing people that taxes are having an impact on their community, " said District 9 Commissioner Dennis Moss. "The trees show we are being responsive. . . . .I have been assured my district will get its fair share of trees."
Moss is not alone. The county has its hands full handling tree requests from other commissioners as well. The pols' most popular palm: a stately variety with sentimental value -- the royal palm, national tree of Cuba.
Last summer, county officials estimated Metro would buy 800 royal palms over the next two years. In just the past eight months, they bought 8,000.
"Commissioners get a lot of neighborhood requests for them, " said acting public works director Pedro Hernandez, whose department handles roadside landscaping. "The royal palms have immediate impact when planted."
Most of the royal palms were purchased from Manuel Diaz Farms, whose owner and namesake contributes regularly to commission election campaigns and sometimes holds gala fund- raisers on his South Dade plantation.
Top recipients in recent years included Moss and District 8 Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who launched an ambitious planting drive last year called "10,000 Trees for South Dade."
Moss received $4,000 in December from Diaz family interests for his re-election race, records show. The commissioner said Diaz, whose farm straddles his South Dade district, is a constituent who shares his interest in giving Dade a "tropical signature" with palms.
"I've talked to Diaz in reference to planting trees throughout Dade County, " Moss said. "There is no connection, " the commissioner said, to Diaz's political contributions.
Sorenson collected $5,500 from Diaz interests for her 1994 election campaign, records show. She said the tree-planting campaign was her own idea, and didn't recall discussing it with Diaz.
"Manny Diaz was nice enough to support me, but they are completely separate issues, " Sorenson said. "My tree planting campaign is absolutely for the good of District 8."
Sorenson said the idea was born in a post-election staff meeting as a way to help her district further recover from Hurricane Andrew's devastation.
"I made it a priority, " she said. "We found out that gas tax money was available and that kind of kicked it off."
Grass-roots groups, primarily homeowners' associations, proposed the planting locations for trees. "People are really happy with the trees, " Sorenson said. "It's been spiritually uplifting."
The political clamor for palms has gotten so hot that County Manager Armando Vidal recently established a special committee just to referee tree orders -- and make sure the projects are divvied up judiciously among the county's 13 commissioners.
"It got to the point where we couldn't handle all the requests, " Hernandez said. "The demand was exceeding the money we had."